When Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi declared on Monday that Kylian Mbappe would ‘never be sold’ and would ‘never leave on a free’ all it did was reinforce Spanish football’s perception of the club as football’s ‘golden cage’.
The 22-year-old, like Neymar before him, is ‘imprisoned’ by the richest club in the world and nothing Real Madrid, or previously Barcelona, can do about it. That’s the Spanish view.
The view from Spain is that Kylian Mbappe is being imprisoned by the richest club in the world
The difference, however, is that Madrid believe their target wants to move to Spain enough to not sign a new contract and leave on a free – and for all that he says it will ‘never’ happen, there would be nothing Al-Khelaifi could do to stop that.
Real Madrid’s response on Monday, or at least the response of the media outlets closest to the club, was one of defiance. Privately, though, there’s an acceptance now that the 22-year-old will not be arriving at the club this summer at least.
Mbappe in 2021 was already a long-shot. Carlo Ancelotti’s first press conference back in charge at Real Madrid last week was full of references to returning loanees and improving players already at the club.
PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi (left) insisted the forward would never be sold or leave on a free but Real Madrid believe Mbappe will reject a new PSG deal in favour of signing for them
Al-Khelaifi previously stopped Neymar leaving the French club to rejoin Barcelona
The Italian coach knows there will probably be no reinforcements. Mbappe remains the number one target but the only way it would have been possible this year is if space were created on the club’s wage bill and if PSG agreed to negotiate.
There are doubts that enough big earners can be ushered out of the club to fulfil the former requisite while the latter requires PSG to fold and they never do.
The first part of the Al-Khelaifi statement on Monday confirms what was already suspected that PSG are not Barcelona. When Barca’s then-sporting vice-president Jordi Mestre said in 2017 that Neymar was ‘200 per cent staying’ it was a vow that stood firm for as long as it took PSG to pay the release clause.
At PSG, Mbappe doesn’t have a release clause and the club’s financial situation is so strong that they will not need to have to cash in on him if it looks like he will not sign a new deal. They can let him see out the last year of his contract without so much as blinking financially.
The second part of Al-Khelaifi’s statement was being taken slightly less seriously in Madrid. Whether Mbappe never leaves on a free is out of the president’s control. If he wants to run down his current deal he will be a free agent in 2022.
Both clubs want to recruit Luis Campos, who was Mbappe’s sporting director at Monaco
Real Madrid still believe he intends not to sign a new deal. PSG are sure he will. The tug-o-war may end up being about more than just money.
Mbappe could follow Lionel Messi’s lead and delay any decision to next summer. And just as Barcelona have done with Messi bringing in Sergio Aguero in the hope it would help convince him to stay, so PSG want to recruit Luis Campos, who was sporting director at Monaco when Mbappe was there, and who was also sporting director with last season’s French champions Lille.
Real Madrid also want Campos. They know they have lost some of their appeal with Zinedine Zidane gone, although they are convinced his departure was not a deal-breaker for Mbappe. Campos still feels to them like a strategic signing that would improve their chances.
Playing the waiting game while both clubs strain to impress him more will only benefit Mbappe.
He knows PSG will be keener than ever to retain him next summer just a few months before the Qatar World Cup. And Real Madrid will be in a better position economically in a year’s time after what they hope will be a season of supporters back in the stadium.
Mbappe’s PSG contract expires in 12 months and Real are confident he will reject an extension
He is now preparing to star in the European Championship with world champions France
Madrid still believe it is a case of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ they sign Mbappe. If that’s the case PSG seem intent on making sure ‘when’ is at least 12 months away.
They continue to frustrate Barca by keeping Neymar from them and they seem to have jumped ahead of the Catalan club in the queue to sign Georginio Wijnaldum.
Now it’s Real Madrid’s turn to be denied. The difference – if there is to be a difference – is that Neymar has always opted for the extra money from PSG. Madrid hope and believe that Mbappe has a footballing dream that money can’t buy.
He wants to play for Real Madrid, they believe. If he keeps refusing to sign with the French club then he’ll be able to realise that dream in 12 month’s time regardless of what Al-Khelaifi says.