Kylian Mbappe is without a doubt one of the hottest prospects in the world of football right now. Only 22 years old, he is already a proven world-class player, with plenty to show for his quality so early in his career – a World Cup, four Ligue 1 titles, two French Cups, two French League Cups, and a Champions League final.
Barring some extremely unfortunate set of circumstances, he is destined for glory in the next decade.
But which shirt will he be wearing?
Mbappe’s current contract with Paris Saint-Germain expires in 18 months. It’s hardly likely the Ligue 1 champions will want to risk losing his services for free, which means they will continue trying to convince him that he has no need to move anywhere, that this club can be all he desires it to be, and that he should put his name on a new contract. If they fail, then it stands to reason to believe they will be open to offers this summer.
If he agrees to stay put and recommits to PSG, he’ll have no shortage of trophies, that much seems a given. Not since Mbappe himself led AS Monaco to the Ligue 1 title in 2016/17 has any team presented a proper challenge to PSG for the French throne, and that isn’t likely to change any time soon.
On the other hand, there’s an obvious downside to that aspect of the matter – for that very reason, the French league will hardly ever be as respected as the Premier League, La Liga, or even Serie A which has once more become interesting this term after a long period of Juventus dominating it. Mbappe will probably ask himself questions of challenge before making his decision.
Financially, there really isn’t any club in the world which can offer more than PSG, and that side of things is not to be ignored.
Real Madrid have always been a club which needs to have superstars in their ranks. It’s what they thrive on, it’s what helps them maintain the image of ‘every player’s dream’, as Paul Pogba puts it.
And yet, at the moment, they don’t have that. Not since Cristiano Ronaldo left to join Juventus in 2018.
No player has stepped up into the shoes of the Portuguese phenomenon since. It may have seemed likely that Gareth Bale would be given a proper chance, but the Welshman simply couldn’t do it; he didn’t even seem too bothered about it, to be frank. The pressure of replacing Ronaldo is still proving too much for the likes of Vinicius Junior, Marco Asensio or Rodrygo Goes. The club believed the issue would be resolved with the signing of serial winner Eden Hazard from Chelsea in 2019, but having paid around €120 million for the Belgian winger, Real are still waiting for him to start making the impact they expected as frequent injuries keep clipping his heels.
Could Mbappe be the man?
Certainly. He has the quality. He has the drive and desire to win and to score, and such characters often thrive on pressure, rather than succumb to it.
Yet, the pressure of performing at Real Madrid is quite different from being at any other club (apart from Barcelona, arguably), especially for players who arrive as big stars. Time to adapt is rarely given to them, by the press, by the fans, by the board. Everybody expects that player to come in and start banging the goals in straight away.
So the question is, does he want to be the man? Does he want that pressure on his back so early in his career? Mbappe himself will have to give the answer to that when the time comes, whether he knows it or not.
This link is a bit of a wild card at the moment. Liverpool are a club who live within their means and rarely spend big money on big stars. Still, they do it when they must, which was clearly proven when they signed Virgil van Dijk in January 2018 and Alisson Becker the following summer, but it’s also worth remembering that those deals were completely covered with the money they got from selling Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona.
Nonetheless, Mbappe’s open admiration for the Merseysiders and the job Jurgen Klopp is doing at Anfield shouldn’t be overlooked.
“What Liverpool do in this moment is amazing,” Mbappe told BBC Sport some months back, when the Reds were unstoppable on their way to being named the English champions for the 19th time.
“They’re like a machine, they’ve found a rhythm and are like ‘we play again, we play again.’
“They’ve lost zero games. When you watch you think everything’s easy but that’s not easy. The guys are focused, they play games every three days and they win, they win, they win.”
At the time, Klopp dismissed those links, naming finances as the only reason – he was very clear about that. But if Mbappe can be signed in a cut-price deal this summer, or persuaded to see his contract at PSG out and join for free in 2022? It would certainly be an interesting prospect for a club whose top forwards would all be 30 or over by that time.
Playing in the Premier League is always a challenge, trophies are not a given. Competition is fierce, especially in the long run, and no team has won the title three times in a row since Manchester United in 2007-2009. It is also the only league of the top five in Europe to have had five different champions in the last 10 years.
Too early to tell
It should also be said that Mbappe has been linked with Barcelona and Juventus as well in the last couple of months. The Catalans are facing the task of preparing for life after Lionel Messi, while it’s now Juventus who need to be thinking about a long-term replacement for Ronaldo.
But everything said above is just a small piece of a difficult equation the young Frenchman has to ponder in the coming months, and guessing where he’ll end up seems pointless at the moment. Recent history suggests the lure of playing for one of the two Spanish giants should be enough to have him choose Madrid, but times could be changing it that aspect. Liverpool reached the Champions League final in 2018 to be beaten by Real, but they won it the next time around with neither of Real or Barcelona in the final – something that happened again last year when PSG lost to Bayern Munich.
Further more, it’s now been a long time since a player signed for either Real or Barcelona as a ready-made star and made an unquestionable success of it – Coutinho, Hazard and Antoine Griezmann come to mind. Luis Suarez was arguably the last one to have done it, after he left Liverpool to join Barcelona in 2014.
It’s not an easy choice.