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Friday, June 21, 2024

Kylian Mbappe, PSG and the longest of goodbyes. Now the show must go on without him

For Kylian Mbappe, the 90 minutes of his last appearance for Paris Saint-Germain will have felt like a blur. From the moment a ball was kicked in the Coupe de France final, the intensity of the occasion will have taken over. It would be a mirror of his seven years at the club, now faded into memory.

But not everything will have passed so quickly, and that is not always helpful when clearing the mind for battle in a major cup final. Indeed, the moments leading up to his last dance, when sat in the dressing room at the Stade Pierre Mauroy in Lille, waiting for the start of the Coupe de France final against Lyon, would drag. Time weighs heavily when the ending finally comes into view.

(Franco Arland/Getty Images)

“In a Coupe de France final, with all the protocols (pre-match show), you have to wait a lot before the match,” Mbappe said, reflecting with the media after the match. “So there is time to think. And the last thing you want to do on game day is to think. All the memories come back, the nostalgia. You know that when 90 minutes is over and you can’t look back. So it was both difficult, and exhilarating, because it is a final.

“I was very emotional for everything, all the fans, the club, the players. It feels good to finish with a trophy like that. There’s no better way.”

A 2-1 win meant there would be celebrations for Mbappe and no matter how fleeting they felt when lived in the moment, those good times were savoured on Saturday night. There were fist-pumps, high-fives, a celebratory circle and then Mbappe found himself thrown into the air — a fate that would also befall his manager, Luis Enrique. After receiving the trophy, he then clambered onto the back of the towering Gianluigi Donnarumma and, flanked by photographers, led the PSG party to the supporters, where each player lifted the trophy. Mbappe, when he was handed it, made sure Manuel Ugarte, who has lost his place of late, had a moment with the club’s most fervent fans.

On the tannoy, ‘One More Time’ by Daft Punk rang out and there was irony there. Yes, there was one more trophy, and one more celebration. But this was the last time.

“I always took stock of the good times and the bad times and so I was able to make the most of this unique experience,” Mbappe said. “Playing at PSG is unique. I was lucky. Everything I had here, I won’t experience anywhere else.”

There were finalities in every sense. This was the last time Mbappe would wear the red and blue of PSG. Those present would witness the last dribble, the last flick, the last handshake with the president of France (for now anyway, at least while playing for a French domestic club). But there would be no last goal, no addition to currency that has underwritten his success here.

He did do much else besides; he completed 42 of his 44 passes, created four chances, including one big chance, and also had nine shots. Six of those were blocked, a stat that reflected the way Lyon suffocated the space around him as PSG’s No 9.

Not everything came off. There were whispers of the spectacular. In the first half, he attempted a sideways scissor kick from a Marquinhos cross, only for the shot to be saved and the assistant’s flag was raised anyway. Moments later, he was picked out by Ousmane Dembele on the counter-attack and invited to volley a sweeping 40-yard pass into the net from outside of the box. He connected with it, but was on the stretch and could not keep the audacious volley down.

(Aurelien Meunier – PSG/PSG via Getty Images)

He came closest on 20 minutes, when Fabian Ruiz teed him up to shoot from the edge of the box. He took a touch, and then curled straight into the arms of Lucas Perri. There was a sharpness missing and in that was something to read. This was more of a performance that reflected these past few months for Mbappe, rather than his seven years at PSG.

Since the unveiling of his departure in February, Mbappe has not quite found full flight. There have been moments but also limited minutes. The reality, as the game against Lyon reflected, is that everything has been moving around him as PSG adapt to his ending. Against Lyon, this was literally and visibly true, as Mbappe’s team-mates made clever and varied runs into the box into the spaces either side of him. On the left, pantomime villain Bradley Barcola, formerly of Lyon, skipped along the byline like it is a tightrope, yet inexplicably remained sure-footed. He created three chances. On the opposite wing, Dembele ran the show, creating eight chances and succeeding with five of eight attempted dribbles.

This is the basis of the ‘what next’ that follows Mbappe’s departure. It is a mix of youth and a shift in power. Dembele is one of those who Luis Enrique sees as a leader going forward. The coach himself may benefit greatly, as the player power of old, epitomised by Mbappe’s influence beyond the normal, ebbs away.

“It was a difficult season for him,” said Luis Enrique. “It’s very hard to say goodbye. He was always ready to help his team. Tonight was the icing on the cake even though he didn’t score. But he was present at all the actions. He’s a different player. There is no replacement for Kylian Mbappe. Only a team with ambition, and maybe four, five or six players to recruit. We will try to get more as a team (without Mbappe). It will be a challenge for all the players who sign here. We want to make history and win this Champions League. I don’t know when we will win it, but we will.”

The show goes on. New heroes will emerge. For Mbappe, the curtain falling is a bookmark not a back page. His new chapter starts in the coming days, as he leads France into a major tournament for the first time as captain. He will then also join Real Madrid, although he will not yet say it.

(Aurelien Meunier – PSG/PSG via Getty Images)

“The best thing you can do is finish your goodbyes,” he explained. “All I wanted was to finish well with my club. There is a time for everything. I will be announcing my new club in due course. We are only a few days away. Before Les Bleus? I don’t know yet, there are still details, but the most important thing was to finish well here.”

Mbappe arrived in Paris from Monaco as an 18-year-old with the world at his feet, one who would make a scoring impact on his debut against Metz in 2017. Now, his CV tells its own story: 15 trophies, 256 goals, 95 assists, 15 trophies, six-time Ligue 1 top goalscorer (a record), five-time Ligue 1 Player of the Year. The club’s all-time leading goalscorer. All from just seven years.

This departure may have been a long time coming. It may have been a tale of ups, downs, political drama and intrigue.

But the final image PSG supporters will have of Mbappe is with a medal around his neck.

And that is not a bad way to bow out.

(Xavier Laine/Getty Images)

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