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It is just over a year since Kylian Mbappe, the 24-year-old French superstar, posed alongside the Paris Saint-Germain chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi inside the club’s Parc des Princes stadium and received a rapturous ovation from the local supporters.

Al-Khelaifi had his arm around the striker and together they raised up a PSG shirt that bore Mbappe’s name on the back with the number 2025 printed below.

A statement on the club’s website read: “Paris Saint-Germain is delighted to announce that Kylian Mbappe has signed a three-year contract extension with the club. The France international striker has put pen to paper on a new deal with the Parisians until 30 June 2025.”

And yet, this was not quite accurate. The true terms of Mbappe’s renewal were rather different.

He had signed only a two-year extension, tying him to PSG until the end of the 2023-24 season, which means the deal was, to some extent, misrepresented to the public at large. Within the renewal, the parties had included a clause: Mbappe would remain at PSG until 2025 if, by July 31 this year, he opted-in on a one-year extension. Otherwise, he would become a free agent in the summer of 2024.

On Monday night, this blew up — in spectacular fashion.

French newspaper L’Equipe reported Mbappe has sent a letter to PSG, informing them he does not intend to trigger the option detailed above. The L’Equipe report is accurate, according to sources close to both the player and PSG who, like others in this article, wish to remain anonymous as they are not authorised to speak publicly about the affair.

For PSG and Mbappe, this is the third summer in a row where the relationship between the player and the club has teetered on the brink.

In 2021, Mbappe received strong interest from Real Madrid, who made an opening bid worth €160million (£137.5m; $172.7m at current exchange rates) to sign him during the final week of the summer transfer window. The offer was rejected, partially because PSG still owed Monaco €36m for the final payment of the €180m transfer that took the player to Paris four years earlier.

As such, the remaining pot of €124million left them, in their view, short of the requisite funds to replace someone of Mbappe’s quality. Besides, despite the France international rejecting several contract offers, PSG still believed he could be persuaded to extend his time with them.

Madrid sources claimed the club made two further offers that summer but PSG did not respond to the latter two, with the French club arguing the offers were never formalised and therefore they were of the view they had nothing to which they should respond.

For a while, this looked like becoming a misjudgment of epic proportions.

Mbappe’s contract before his current one ran to the summer of 2023, with the forward threatening to run it down to the wire, which would have enabled him to leave on a free transfer upon its expiry. The Madrid media became convinced Mbappe’s signature at the Bernabeu would be a mere formality, regularly reminding readers that he had posters of Cristiano Ronaldo, a Madrid icon, on his bedroom wall as a child.

Yet PSG persisted. The club’s ownership, Qatar Sports Investment (QSI), is state-backed and was able to make Mbappe the most handsomely remunerated footballer in Europe, with some reports claiming he would earn €1million per week. Club sources said the figure would be closer to €40m annually. They argued Madrid’s offer was not substantially different, once image rights and signing-on fees were taken into consideration.

But estimations of Mbappe’s income appear to differ, depending on who you speak to and where you read about it.

Last October, French newspaper Le Parisien suggested his contract was worth €630million before tax if it extended into a third year. Two months ago, L’Equipe declared him the highest earner anywhere in world sport.

To secure the extension last summer, PSG enlisted the help of France’s president Emmanuel Macron, who encouraged Mbappe to remain in Paris through to the Olympic Games there in July and August 2024, where he said in April he hopes to represent his country (as one of the squad’s three over-age players in what is effectively an under-23s tournament). Nicolas Sarkozy, the country’s president between 2007 and 2012, also applied pressure.

Al-Khelaifi told Mbappe, then aged 23, he was young enough to see through his dream of winning the Champions League with PSG and then have adventures elsewhere if he still maintained those ambitions. PSG also offered to make Mbappe — the boy from Bondy, just seven miles (11km) from the centre of Paris — the centrepiece of the club’s commercial operations.

PSG were also determined to avoid the double embarrassment of losing Mbappe for nothing at all — one year after turning down Madrid’s offer of €160m — while their Qatari ownership also wanted him to be representing the club at the upcoming winter World Cup hosted by their homeland.

In that context, Mbappe stunned Madrid by renewing at PSG, where he was partnered in a star-studded forward line alongside Lionel Messi and Neymar.

Last season he excelled once more, scoring 41 club goals as well as 12 for his country, eight of them at the World Cup, including a hat-trick in the final (he won the Golden Boot with eight goals in the tournament) as his defending champions lost on penalties to Argentina. Mbappe’s father Wilfried even watched that match in a private box hosted by Al-Khelaifi, while his mother watched other games in the PSG executive’s company.

Since the World Cup, however, relations appear to have soured.

In April, Mbappe took umbrage when his image was used in a marketing video sent to PSG season ticket holders to try to coax them into a renewal.

He complained on Instagram, saying: “I have just taken part in the viewing of the club’s renewal campaign for the 23/24 season. At no time was I informed of the content of the interview with my interviewer. It looked like a basic interview at a club marketing day. I don’t agree with this video posted. That’s why I fight for individual image rights. PSG is a big club and a big family, but it is certainly not Kylian Saint-Germain.”

Some at the club wondered whether Mbappe was flexing his muscles with a view to securing greater flexibility in negotiations over a longer-term extension. Mbappe’s entourage had noted, for example, that Madrid were willing to offer him 100 per cent control of his image rights last summer, something PSG weren’t prepared to do.

The backlash over Mbappe’s image did leave some PSG executives scratching their heads as, during the previous round of negotiations, they got the impression he wanted greater prominence in commercial affairs.

It was not the only signal of discontent from Mbappe, who has always denied his agreement to remain at the club involved any significant say in their choice of sporting director, or coach, which made it a happy coincidence when Luis Campos, a former mentor of his at Monaco, returned to PSG as an advisor last summer. The striker was also unhappy when PSG failed to recruit Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski and Monaco midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni last summer, with the pair instead moving to Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively.

His preferred option at centre-back, Milan Skriniar of Inter Milan, will only join PSG this summer as a free agent, after the club failed to secure him a year or six months earlier.

Now, however, another Mbappe saga has begun.

PSG were angered on Monday, as they say they learned of Mbappe’s wishes via a phone call from a journalist at L’Equipe, with the letter only landing formally with the club from the now France captain’s representatives later in the day.

An executive at the club told The Athletic they were surprised by the letter, mostly because, as mentioned earlier, the clause concerned is an opt-in, rather than an opt-out, which means there was no legal need to communicate any decision formally, let alone for it to become a matter of public concern.

Even Campos, Mbappe’s old associate from his days as a youngster at Monaco, did not see it coming.

On Monday, an exasperated Al-Khelaifi made emergency phone calls to Mbappe’s mother Fayza Lamari, who leads the player’s negotiations. Yet again, PSG are wondering whether Mbappe is truly serious about leaving or whether this is a high-stakes bargaining position to secure further compromises.

According to the same PSG executive, the club have been in talks with Mbappe over a long-term renegotiation across multiple meetings in which the parties have even explored partnering together on investment projects.

Al-Khelaifi does not want to lose the player on a free transfer this time next year and, with that in mind, the club insist they will seek to sell Mbappe to the highest bidder this summer if his stance does not change. In short, PSG are attempting to call his bluff.

Mbappe player will always have interest from Premier League clubs and most notably Madrid, whose hearts were broken by the Frenchman last summer.

He recently apologised to Madrid’s president Florentino Perez for that perceived betrayal and the La Liga club are in the market for a centre-forward after Karim Benzema departed last week for Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ittihad. However, Perez said only three days ago that Mbappe is still a target, “but not for this year”. Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur and Inter’s Lautaro Martinez remain options up front with Madrid having already committed more than €100million to acquire England midfielder Jude Bellingham from Borussia Dortmund in this window.

PSG have been eager to adopt a harder line over their most famous stars after coming to the view that a culture of individualism, excess and ego has undermined the club’s quest for Champions League success. That trophy has remained elusive since QSI first invested in the French club over a decade ago. They are close to appointing a new head coach, with the German Julian Nagelsmann one of two options still under consideration, and do want Mbappe to remain central to their project.

Last month, Messi was suspended by the club and fined after taking an unauthorised trip to Saudi Arabia for a personal marketing assignment.

The Argentina forward did not show up to training as he was in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital city, and PSG responded by imposing a ban from club facilities and ruling him out of a domestic league fixture against Troyes. Barcelona icon Messi is leaving PSG this summer after two years, and is set to move to MLS with Inter Miami.

PSG’s hard-line position has its limitations, however, because Messi, for all his brilliance, is less than two weeks from turning 36 and his best years are behind him. A cutting of the cord suited everyone. Mbappe, by contrast, is only becoming stronger.

So while the relationship between club and striker may seem broken today, it would likely be redeemed by the next brilliant hat-trick. Besides, PSG’s threat to sell Mbappe if he does not back down is likely undermined by the reality they cannot force him to join another club this summer if he is determined to see out his contract and depart as a free agent in a year.

Football’s highest-stakes poker player holds the cards, and may be going all-in once again.

(Photo: Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)



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