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Kylian Mbappé Wants To Leave A PSG He Couldn’t Make His Own

Kylian Mbappe of Paris Saint-Germain arrives to the stadium for the Ligue 1 match between Stade Reims and Paris Saint-Germain at Stade Auguste Delaune on October 08, 2022 in Reims, France.
Aurelien Meunier - PSG/PSG via Getty Images

It never made much sense (even if it made quite a few dollars) why Kylian Mbappé chose to re-sign with Paris Saint-Germain at the end of last season. The Frenchman had spent two whole years openly pining for a move to Real Madrid, where he would at last emerge from the shadows of Neymar and Lionel Messi, out from the attention vacuum that is Ligue 1, and bask in the white sun of Madrid, the biggest attraction on the game's biggest stage. But right when Mbappé could've escaped PSG's golden cage by joining Madrid on a free transfer, he instead decided to stay in Paris, no doubt hoping that the club's financial commitment and its many promises that he would be the team's focal star going forward would earn him the status he desired without forcing him to leave home. Now, not even six months after signing on the dotted line, several reports say that Mbappé is already regretting his decision.

The past couple days have seen an avalanche of news articles claiming that Mbappé is extremely unhappy at PSG. According to Le Parisien, Mbappé wants out, and preferably would like to leave PSG as soon as this January. They report that the player feels "betrayed" by the club for how it failed to adhere to the promises it made him as a condition on his extending his contract: principally, promises in the transfer market, his playing position, and his role as the leader and most important piece of the club's project.

Le Parisien also reports that Luís Campos, who signed with PSG this summer as the club's sporting director, is also close to leaving the club. Campos is one of the most respected soccer executives in Europe and has close ties with Mbappé going back to their time together at Monaco. His joining PSG—which itself, according to reports, was done at the behest of Mbappé—was supposed to signal a new day at the club as it distanced itself from its showy but poorly considered team-building strategies to adopt a more coherent plan. France Bleu corroborated these accounts and added that Mbappé has told people close to him that re-signing with PSG was "a mistake." L'Équipe confirms the reporting, as does Spanish paper Marca, the latter adding that PSG has told Mbappé that if they do agree to sell him, it won't be to Real Madrid.

How did things get to this point, where not even halfway through the first season of his new contract, amid what has been a mostly impressive start to the campaign, Mbappé is already agitating to leave? The seeds of the present discontentment can be found both in that contract and in PSG's success this year. All the money and the promises of power PSG gave Mbappé were meant to ensure that Mbappé knew and felt like he was the most important person at the club. By all reports, PSG tried to live up to this by getting Mbappé's blessing for the Campos hire and that of new manager Christophe Galtier, guaranteeing that Mbappé will be the designated penalty taker, and, most importantly, trying to push out Neymar, Mbappé's chief rival for preeminence. But PSG's inability to offload Neymar, and Neymar's good health and drive to reach his best heading into a pivotal World Cup, meant Neymar could demonstrate something on the pitch that no amount of money could compensate for: that the Brazilian is simply a better player than the Frenchman.

A PSG team in which a healthy and in-form Neymar plays is always going to be built around him. His influence on the game, especially when combined with that of his teammate and close friend Messi, is just much broader and stronger than what Mbappé can exert even at his best. Because PSG kept Neymar and Messi, the team almost by necessity has to play Mbappé as a lone center forward ahead of the two South American powerhouses. This position is one that frustrates Mbappé, who prefers to play with more freedom as a second striker. Mbappé admitted as much during the international break last month, comparing his role at PSG with the one Olivier Giroud allows him to play with France:

“I have a lot more freedom here,” he said. “The coach knows that there is a number nine like Olivier who occupies the defence. 

“Me, I can walk around, go into space, ask for balls… In Paris, there isn’t that, it’s different, I’m asked to do the pivot. I’m very happy with today’s game.”

Mbappé hinted at this same positional frustration last weekend, when, following a scoreless draw against Reims, he posted a since-deleted Instagram story that included "#pivotgang"—surely an ironic reference to his previous statement about playing as a "pivot" striker. It would be hard to argue that Mbappé is being misused at PSG this season, seeing as he's scored 12 goals in 13 games so far across Ligue 1 and the Champions League. But it would be just as hard not to admit that Neymar (nine goals and nine assists in 14 matches) and Messi (seven goals and eight assists in 12), empowered in their favored positions, have been the real drivers of PSG's efforts this season.

This is the world Mbappé consigned himself to when he re-signed with a PSG that still had Neymar and Messi. Last season, when the South Americans weren't at their best, Mbappé proved that he could be the best player on the team and probably even the best player in the world. Now that his attacking teammates have returned to their customary levels of greatness, Mbappé is forced to once again confront the idea that he isn't even the star of his own team. The Frenchman could've solved this issue by turning down PSG's money to join Real Madrid, a club with a long history of pampering its Galácticos. Instead, he's stuck where he has to fight over penalties, to endure magnified analysis of his every decision to shoot or pass, and to live with the knowledge that, no matter what the club promised him, there's no overcoming the natural hierarchy that is born of proven ability on the field of play.

Reports say that Mbappé's contract with PSG was a two-year deal with a player option for a third. If PSG has proven anything since Qatar bought the club in 2011, it's that it will only move a player on when it wants to, on its own terms. That makes the prospect of Mbappé leaving Paris in January or even next summer a highly dubious proposition. Should PSG stick to its usual stubbornness, Mbappé could soon discover that the biggest impediment to the realization of his career aspirations isn't Neymar, but is in fact PSG itself—a team built expressly by and for him, but one he still hasn't been able to claim full ownership of.

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