Real Madrid have not forgotten about Kylian Mbappe and Mbappe has most definitely not forgotten about Real Madrid.
From the outside, things might appear to be quite different. Madrid have talked down the prospect of signing the 24-year-old striker — both publicly and privately — because they do not want this topic to be in the media. After what happened with their failed attempts to sign Mbappe last summer, they are proceeding with caution.
But they have kept open more discrete channels of communication with the player and his entourage and, since the 2022 World Cup, there has been movement.
When asked by The Athletic, Mbappe’s representatives replied that they preferred not to comment on the subject. And a senior source at Madrid, who also asked to speak anonymously to protect their position, insist they have heard nothing from Mbappe since last summer.
The situation is far from clear. If we learned anything from the saga last summer, it is to expect plenty of twists, turns and versions of the truth.
What we do know is that it is a story that is far from over and we will try to inform you as things progress.
The Mbappe to Real Madrid saga is entering a new phase. To build a picture of what might happen next, we need to head back to Paris before the summer of 2022…
On May 21, one week before the Champions League final between Real Madrid and Liverpool in Paris, Mbappe communicated what was described by those closest to him as the most difficult decision he’d made in his career.
In a message that left him “heartbroken”, according to the same sources, Mbappe explained to Madrid president Florentino Perez that his desired transfer to the Spanish giants was not possible. He had chosen to renew with Paris Saint-Germain.
Mbappe’s decision was influenced by political pressure. High-ranking officials from Qatar and French president Emmanuel Macron were involved in talks over his new contract. Money also played a role and there is some contention around this subject.
People close to the striker, as well as the footballer himself in public, maintained and still maintain that he would have earned more at the Bernabeu. They say that Real Madrid, in a historic and unprecedented concession, offered Mbappe 100% ownership of his image rights, which PSG did not. Real Madrid, for their part, say they could never have matched anything PSG offered.
In Paris, there were celebrations as Mbappe posed with a shirt bearing the number 2025. But in reality, his contract extension was only until 2024, with an option to renew for one more season that only Mbappe can trigger.
The 2018 World Cup winner with France then tried to limit the damage caused among Madrid fans. He did not succeed, with supporters reacting angrily as he posted on Instagram: “I will be the first Real Madrid supporter in the Champions League final.”
The relationship between Perez and Fayza Lamari, Mbappe’s mother and agent, was practically broken. Perez felt betrayed, as he believed he had agreed the terms of Mbappe’s future contract as a Madrid player. Lamari had previously said they’d made it clear they were still talking to PSG and blamed Perez for leaking to the Spanish media that the signing was a done deal.
But there were other people involved in the negotiations who have always maintained the relationship is still alive. The objective is clear: if Mbappe were to decide to leave PSG, Real Madrid will be ready at the table.
In fact, that has been the club’s plan since Mbappe’s decision to stay with the French champions in May. And what happened in July reinforced this strategy.
Barely a month and a half after Mbappe’s renewal, he expressed discomfort to management about the direction in which PSG were heading, as confirmed to The Athletic by sources from both the player’s entourage and the French club, who asked to remain anonymous to protect their positions.
Mbappe wanted PSG to assemble a squad good enough to seriously compete for a Champions League title. The Parc des Princes leadership responded by appointing sporting director Luis Campos, who worked with Mbappe at Monaco and is described as his “footballing father”. Campos, in addition, brought in Christophe Galtier, a coach with whom Mbappe could work easily and who would be open to suggestions — both on transfer market strategy and football decisions.
The targets were a midfielder, Aurelien Tchouameni, who preferred to join Real Madrid; a striker, Robert Lewandowski, who joined Barcelona; and a centre-back, Milan Skriniar, who stayed at Inter Milan.
While rumours swirled about the renewals of Lionel Messi and Neymar, the signings did not materialise and relationships began to strain. The dynamic between Neymar and Mbappe especially has generated much discussion.
For example, Mbappe complained on Instagram and spoke to the media about being positioned as the club’s central striker (he prefers a more creative role on the left). He has also made some on-pitch gestures over not receiving the ball. Tensions reached such a point that, when asked about their relationship after playing for Brazil in a friendly against Ghana in Le Havre in September, Neymar replied “Pfff” and left the mixed zone.
In August, the two had argued over which of them should be PSG’s designated penalty taker, despite Galtier having already chosen Mbappe. Then, in mid-October, sources close to Mbappe claimed he had resolved to leave in the January transfer window.
They also explained that in July, Antero Henrique who works as a consultant at PSG, had opened the door for him to leave but not to Real Madrid. Any exit would have to be to Liverpool, with PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi and Henrique himself asking for €400million ($431m; £352m). Mbappe rejected that option.
Campos, the most solid link between Mbappe and PSG, knows Mbappe is not at ease. The forward is still directing all his efforts at continuing to perform on the pitch, but has told Campos he feels cheated.
Some voices within PSG say that since returning from the World Cup — where he underlined his stellar talent by winning the Golden Boot and scoring a stunning hat-trick as France lost in the final to Argentina on penalties — Mbappe is motivated and excited about the team’s direction. The fact he is playing more on the left wing now and less as a pivot has contributed to that.
A departure in January is not going to happen. And nor will it necessarily next summer — PSG have shown in the past they have no need to cash in on their prized assets.
But PSG are aware that Mbappe has by no means forgotten his dream of playing for Real Madrid and there has been tensions at times between club and player.
“The only club that can get him out of here is Real Madrid,” says a source from PSG, who spoke to The Athletic on condition of anonymity to protect their position.
“Nothing is impossible in football, but we could ask for €400m ($431m; £352m), or not even put a price on him,” the source said.
Madrid, for their part, remain reticent about any possible transfer. Their reasons are of course tied to the experience of last summer, but that doesn’t explain all of their thinking.
The Spanish club believe Mbappe’s current deal, and the influence he is afforded in PSG’s decision-making, means he is essentially unattainable for any other team. But if the situation were to change, if Mbappe were to return to being a normal player, Real Madrid have a plan in place and have the money ready.
They have worked hard on reducing costs as much as possible and in the past few years have been operating at a profit, thanks to a reduction in wages since the COVID-19 pandemic, income from their Champions League success and their shrewd work in the transfer market.
According to Transfermarkt, Real Madrid were up €12.15m ($13.1m; £10.7m) after player sales and purchases in the summer of 2022. They netted €47m ($50.7m; £42.9m) over the course of the 2021-22 season and €104.2m ($112.2m; £91.5m) over 2020-21. You have to go back to the season of 2019-20 to find a negative balance: €218.7m ($235.4m; £191.9m).
There is no guarantee in this story. How can there be when we so regularly see just how delicate and unpredictable the world of football transfers can be? Add in a player like Mbappe, clubs like PSG and Real Madrid, and that mix becomes all the more difficult to control.
Madrid, as is perhaps wise, are proceeding with caution — but they are proceeding. And however it ends, it will be entertaining along the way.
(Top photo: Antonio Borga/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images)
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