Kylian Mbappe’s decision to stay at Paris Saint-Germain confirms the Qatar-backed club’s position of power within European football but also means the superstar striker is likely to wield huge influence as they rebuild for another assault on the Champions League.
The 23-year-old had for so long seemed certain to sign for Real Madrid before being persuaded to commit to a new three-year deal at PSG, the club he joined in 2017 from Monaco.
His new salary is set to be even more eye-watering than before and accompanied by an astronomical signing-on fee: there were reports that Real’s own offer included a signing-on fee of 150 million euros ($154m).
Yet PSG will also be determined to do everything they can to provide Mbappe with a team good enough to deliver finally the trophy he wants the most, and that the Qataris have chased without success since arriving in Paris in 2011.
This season’s defeat in the last 16 to Real Madrid following a collapse in the second leg was just the latest humiliation for PSG in the Champions League, a series that most notably includes the 6-1 defeat to Barcelona in 2017.
Five years ago they reacted to that stinging loss by signing Neymar from Barcelona as well as a teenage Mbappe.
Now they have exacted revenge on Madrid by denying them Mbappe.
“I always said that Paris was my home. I hope I can carry on doing what I love most -– playing football and winning trophies,” the player said after the announcement of his new deal and before scoring a hat-trick in PSG’s 5-0 win over Metz on Saturday in their last game of the season.
Hours after that came the news that sporting director Leonardo — heavily criticised by supporters — had been fired.
Reports in France on Sunday suggested PSG may now look to replace Leonardo with Luis Campos, the Portuguese recruitment guru who helped build title-winning teams at Lille and Monaco and knows Mbappe well.
– Pochettino set to follow Leonardo –
Coach Mauricio Pochettino is also expected to leave despite delivering the club’s French record-equalling 10th league title.
“I only found out a few minutes before the official announcement,” admitted the Argentine on Saturday when asked about Mbappe’s new deal.
Pochettino has struggled to stamp his mark at PSG, although it is not clear who they might look to as a successor –- the possibility of Zinedine Zidane appears unlikely.
Then there is the team itself.
“It is a big step forward, but there is still a lot of work to be done,” admitted captain Marquinhos following Mbappe’s decision to sta.:
PSG’s recruitment of Lionel Messi has not worked out as hoped, the former Barcelona man managing just 11 goals in his first season in France.
Messi won his seventh Ballon d’Or last year but will be 35 next month, while Neymar continues to struggle with his form and fitness.
Could PSG look to offload both as they make Mbappe the undisputed figurehead of their project? And if so who would be willing and able to take Messi and Neymar off their hands?
– Too much influence? –
A sensible approach for PSG would surely be to focus more of their efforts on bringing through the best players emerging from the vast Paris region, one of the most fertile breeding grounds for footballing talent in the world.
Too many academy graduates have left PSG early in recent years. The latest France squad features Mike Maignan, Adrien Rabiot, Kingsley Coman, Moussa Diaby and Christopher Nkunku, all former PSG players who chose, or were encouraged, to depart.
Nkunku has just won the player of the year award in the Bundesliga after scoring 35 goals for RB Leipzig.
But front and centre is Mbappe, the World Cup winner from the northern Paris suburb of Bondy who finished the season with 39 goals.
There is arguably no more thrilling sight in modern football than Mbappe running at full speed at an opposition defence. His pace is astonishing. He is a voracious goal-scorer and the player expected to dominate the sport for years to come.
And as Pochettino remarked: “Kylian really identifies with this city.”
The prospect of winning a first Champions League with his hometown team will be an enticing one for Mbappe, but giving one player such power is a risk.
“The danger is that PSG become Mbappe FC,” said France 1998 World Cup winner Bixente Lizarazu, speaking on television show Telefoot.
“They need to try not to have this rock-star policy. They need to build a collective.”