European Football

La Décision: Mbappé Stays

On Kylian Mbappé’s transfer saga and the coming future in Paris…

Well, it is finally over.

Kylian Mbappé is staying in Paris. The wonderkid forward signed a three year contract with PSG, keeping him at the club until 2025. After months upon months of transfer speculation, theories, and assumptions, Mbappé finally got it over with and made his decision. He has shockingly turned down Real Madrid and continued with PSG in a move that has impact on several different stories and facets of the football world. This is a story that everyone and their mother has chimed in on, and there are certainly so many layers to discuss here outside of the obvious, face value “Mbappé is still a PSG player” fact.

Mbappé’s deal is going to get quite a bit of discussion. He is now by far the highest-paid player in the world, potentially signing a deal that in totality breaks records when it comes to compensation for a footballer. He has milked Paris Saint-Germain’s wealthy Arabian backers for as much as he could, and many people are going to have many thoughts about this, myself included, but possibly the most important aspect of his new deal is something that is not financial. But more on that later.

On a base, face value level, this deal is already a massive boost for PSG. It is not a bold statement to say that Mbappé has been PSG’s best player for several years now, but the degree to which he is performing in a Parisian shirt this season is beyond any level he has previously achieved in his career. In a team that also contains Neymar and Lionel Messi, Mbappé is quite clearly PSG’s best and most important player. He has, at times, carried PSG over the line in games where the other key players did not look up to it, and I do not think it is bold to say that PSG would have at minimum faced a serious fight for the league title this season had Mbappé left for Madrid last summer. The French phenom finished the season as Ligue 1’s leading scorer and assister with 28 and 17 in 35 games, respectively, becoming the first player in Ligue 1 history to ever lead the league in both categories. Despite PSG’s struggles in Europe, I feel fairly comfortable saying this should be a season that puts Mbappé in the top five in the Ballon d’Or rankings. He was simply unstoppable at times.

And PSG are keeping him! I have to keep reminding myself of that and framing it that way, as this certainly feels like an arriving player rather than one that is staying. That is the degree to which we all believed Mbappé was leaving, almost as if he was already wearing the famous Real Madrid white shirt already. PSG has their golden boy, the piece around which everything else will build and function. With a contract extension for Marquinhos also in the works alongside another year of adaptation for Donnarumma, Hakimi, and Nuno Mendes, there is the makings of a very solid young core here, one that can realistically challenge for a European Cup within the three year timespan of Mbappé’s contract.

This, in the immediate term, gives PSG two things. They firstly get a sense of security. They know that their biggest star is staying and is committed, and even if the building of the team is difficult, they know Mbappé can be there to bail them out like he did quite often this season. This move also gives PSG, Qatari Sports Investments, and everyone involved in and around PSG a backing and legitimacy that no other event has. The club has longed to be treated as one of the big boys in European football, and the fact that maybe the biggest young star in the football world has committed his future to your club and spurned the interest of Real Madrid, one of the biggest and most storied clubs in the sport, is something that PSG and Nasser Al-Khelaifi can directly point to when arguing that they belong among the top dogs of the sport. PSG are here to stay.

Now back to my previous point, the one about the most important clause in this deal not being a financial one. This has gotten quite a bit of traction, as well as some mistranslation and misinterpretation from the media, but it is the most important for PSG’s future. Mbappé, allegedly, has been given significant control within the sporting project at PSG with the ability to have significant say on player acquisitions, player sales, and manager hirings and firings. No, I do not believe he has formal ownership here, he is not replacing the Emir of Qatar as the owner of the club, and I do not think he is the sole decision maker when it comes to these facets of running the club, but I do believe that the club has given him incredibly significant say on these decisions. This will probably be similar to the influence that Messi had at Barcelona or Ronaldo had at Real Madrid, or to use an American basketball example, the influence LeBron James has at the teams he has played for in his career, especially the Cavaliers and Lakers.

And this is key, because PSG have been ran horrendously in a sporting sense, especially over the last three to five years. Their transfer strategy is illogical, managerial hirings seem to largely be dictated by name recognition, and there is no cohesive direction in which the leadership has been taking the club, who have largely chosen to govern by ego rather than logic. Mbappé now gets a say in these matters, and he probably realizes that the club has been going in the wrong direction and possibly would not have committed his future to the club had there not been promises of major changes. Probably largely motivated by Mbappé’s extension, the Emir has allegedly ordered a mass audit of all staff at PSG, demanding the removal of all persons “who used PSG to serve themselves, rather than serving PSG”. This has led to already significant turnover in major areas not exclusive to the men’s senior team, as high-up staff within the club’s academy and PSG Féminine, the women’s team, have also been removed.

The key figure in this discussion, however, is Leonardo Araujo, the club’s sporting director. Whenever I have written recently about the problems at PSG, I have usually saved some time to discuss Leonardo, a man who I believe has been downright awful in his position as sporting director and the root of many of the club’s issues. He also, relevant to this topic, has a very poor relationship with Mbappé, one that many thought would be the downfall of PSG’s efforts to keep him. But now Mbappé is staying, and as a result, Leonardo has been fired, and substantial plans have already been made for his replacement. According to mainly Romain Molina, PSG are bringing in two people to replace Leonardo. The first is former PSG sporting director Antero Henrique, who, in keeping with the spirit of the Emir’s audit of club employees, is being brought in with the very short term prerogative of clearing out the unwanted players at the club.

The other person is Luis Campos.

Campos’ name will not mean as much to those outside of the world of French football, but for those who know, they know that this is a colossal deal. Campos is highly respected within French football, having had very successful spells as a sporting director in French football and playing a major role in constructing the last two teams to dethrone PSG as French champions, Monaco in 2016/17 and Lille in 2020/21. Also, pertinent to this discussion, he has a very close relationship with Mbappé and his family, which was developed during the prodigal striker’s formative years at Monaco. When Mbappé and his family were pushing to leave the club due to his lack of playing time, it was Campos who protested to the club hierarchy and then-manager Leonardo Jardim to give the kid a chance, one that he most certainly took. Campos has the trust of Mbappé, and the club will likely empower Campos to be the key figure behind this rebuild.

This hire represents a significant strategic shift when it comes to PSG’s recruitment philosophy. Leonardo leaned into the desire for big signings, assembling a squad of stars and aiming to bring “FC Hollywood” to Paris. Campos has been more low key, doing his best work in finding young, talented players through atypical pathways and where many others may not be directly looking. At Monaco, for instance, he signed now-Liverpool defensive midfielder Fabinho from the Brazilian league, and he plucked now-Man City midfielder Bernardo Silva from Benfica after he had only played 10 senior team minutes. His teams have also profited well from signing players within France, which includes the likes of Thomas Lemar and Anthony Martial while at Monaco, as well as Nicolas Pépé and Benjamin Andre while at Lille. This is notable since PSG have typically not looked to sign players from within France in recent years. They have only signed one player from another Ligue 1 team since 2017: Kylian Mbappé himself. Leonardo was also reportedly turned off by the idea of PSG re-signing players who had come from their own academy and left, which notably included the in-demand Christopher Nkunku. I imagine both of these trends change under Campos, a man who has a clear idea of what the team should look like and who also knows quite a bit about the domestic player landscape within France. With rumors linking PSG to young Reims striker Hugo Ekitike and Lyon right back Malo Gusto, it is clear that this new philosophy is already being instilled into the recruitment team.

Campos is a very smart man, one of the most well-respected sporting directors in the football world. If he is given the backing of the club and is able to find a manager with which he shares a similar vision, then PSG’s recruitment is going to dramatically improve. And Campos now has the Qatari war chest at his disposal, no longer hampered by the financial struggles of Monaco and Lille. If he is able to put together a few very good windows in Paris, then PSG suddenly become major contenders for the European Cup.

And then there is the question of the manager. Despite Mbappé’s very good relationship with current boss Mauricio Pochettino, it does appear that the Argentine will likely be leaving Paris, probably seeing the last year and a half of his career as an exercise in how best to quickly destroy a reputation. The top managerial choice of everyone at the club is very clear. It has been no secret that PSG have lusted after Zinedine Zidane for years now, but the legendary player and coach seems to be no more convinced to sign on to the project than he was prior to the extension. Ultimately, should all signs point to Didier Deschamps leaving the French National Team after the World Cup this winter, it would be assumed that Zidane would turn down PSG to take the national team job, but the possibility of him going to Paris still exists. Outside of Zidane, it is not like they are devoid of options. I imagine the managerial choice would be left to Campos, obviously with significant input from Mbappé, but the philosophical choice would be key. It could be anyone, ranging from Roberto Martínez to Christophe Galtier to Ruben Amorim and everywhere in between.

The key is Campos. If he is given the support he needs, then I believe the decisions will be correct. If the decisions are correct, then PSG can win things.

We do not know what the future holds in the French capital, but they are certainly off on the right direction. Kylian Mbappé is staying, he is (supposedly) invested in the project, and he wants to write the next chapters of his career in Paris. By the end of this three year stint, Mbappé could leave the club as the most important player, and perhaps the best player, in their history.

But now, I think we need to check in on Real Madrid…

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