It was at the unveiling of yet another new coach that Paris Saint-Germain’s president made his first public statement on the future of his team’s best player. He did not equivocate and left little room for compromise.
Kylian Mbappé, the marquee player for PSG and France, must sign a new contract this summer or leave, Nasser al-Khelaifi told reporters, who were ostensibly gathered to hear the first pronouncements from the new coach, the Spaniard Luis Enrique, but eager to hear what the club planned to do about the uncertainty created by Mbappé after his public declaration last month that he wished to move on after next season.
Such a scenario would leave the club in the unenviable situation of losing, without compensation, a player in whom it has invested more than $500 million in transfer fees, bonuses and wages. That is something Al-Khelaifi said would not be allowed to happen.
“We do not want him to leave for free in 2024,” Al-Khelaifi said. “Our position is clear,” he continued. “If Kylian wants to stay, we want him to stay. But he needs to sign a new contract. We don’t want to lose the best player in the world for free. It’s impossible.”
The new coach, for his part, declined to say whether he expected Mbappé to be in Paris when the new season gets underway this summer.
What is clear is that for a second straight summer, the fate of where Mbappé plays is going to overshadow PSG’s efforts to prove that it is now a serious contender for football’s biggest prize rather than once again the central stage for the sport’s biggest intrigues.
Last summer, PSG persuaded Mbappé to sign a new contract rather than sign with Real Madrid, the Spanish super club he has long dreamed of playing for. PSG had wanted to build a new model, with Mbappé as the central star in a constellation of mostly young, mostly French talent. Without him, that master plan would once again require reimagining.
Later on, Al-Khelaifi was even more strident. Sitting down with members of the domestic news media, he said Mbappé had a “maximum” of two weeks to decide whether to sign a new contract. The club, he said, would not allow such a valuable asset to leave for nothing in 12 months. Mbappé could, it was pointed out to Al-Khelaifi, just decide to stay, making it impossible for the club to dictate his fate.
Al-Khelaifi said that would be unthinkable — that Mbappé would be breaking an unwritten convention of some sort, by doing something that the world’s best players simply do not do. He did not mention that PSG had done that very thing two summers ago, signing the Argentine great Lionel Messi as a free agent when Barcelona, the team Messi had played on for his entire career, could no longer afford to keep him.
“If he doesn’t want to sign,” Al-Khelaifi said, “the door is open.”
Privately, the club has been exchanging letters with Mbappé’s management team, which is led by his mother, Fayza Lamari. This week, the latest missive, running to three pages, expressed disappointment with the position Mbappé had taken and reminded the player and his family how much PSG had invested in the forward since his teenage years.
PSG resumes practice on July 10, but Mbappé, along with others who played for their national teams in June, will return on July 17. By then, the club hopes to have clarity on whether he will accede to its demand to sign a new contract.
In her time representing her son, Lamari has become an experienced hand in securing the best possible deal. Lamari will once again take centre stage as face-to-face talks with club executives take place over the next few days. Only then will it become clear whether, as Al-Khelaifi told reporters, “No one player is bigger than the club.”
New York Times News Service
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