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Maybe Kylian Mbappé Really Is Leaving This Time?

PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 14Kylian Mbappe of PSG celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the UEFA Champions League 2023/24 round of 16 first leg match between Paris Saint-Germain and Real Sociedad at Parc des Princes on February 14, 2024 in Paris, France.
Christian Liewig - Corbis/Getty Images

Look. If Kylian Mbappé had actually left Paris Saint-Germain each time some news outlet confidently reported that he was about to ... well, then it only would have been reported one time, years ago. The point is, this is like the fourth straight winter various press organs have reported, with confidence, that Mbappé would leave Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the season, and it has not happened yet. Not even once!

We did all of this last year, if you recall. Mbappé refused to sign a contract extension during the season, in a ploy to either force a transfer to Real Madrid or squeeze better terms out of PSG without imperiling the gigantic loyalty bonus the club owed him; the club responded by pitching a fit and temporarily banishing him from the locker room; the sides eventually reached a detente, as we predicted they would, extending Mbappé's stay in the French capital for another season on gaudy terms; Real Madrid fans ate shit and screamed to the heavens that they didn't actually want him anyway. It was fun! Even if we'd already done it twice by that point.

Here we are again. Mbappé's existing contract will expire at the end of June; barring a new agreement between him and PSG, any club will, beginning in July, be able to sign him without having to pay what'd otherwise be a potentially historic transfer fee. For weeks if not months reporters and gossipers have speculated that this time, this time, finally, he will leave PSG once and for all. In December people even convinced themselves, very briefly, that he might move to Madrid during the January transfer window, despite that being on its face ludicrous. Up to here this is all very familiar.

I am prepared to seem like a fool for this, but things suddenly seem different. Thursday afternoon, The Athletic's typically cautious and reliable David Ornstein reported, in surprisingly stark and definitive language, that Mbappé "has told Paris Saint-Germain he will leave the club at the end of this season," in a piece literally headlined "Kylian Mbappé to leave PSG at end of season." Shortly afterward, soccer super-reporter Fabrizio Romano tweeted with similarly absolute phrasing, declaring that "It's 100-percent over between Kylian Mbappé and PSG."

That latter one, I think, is the real eye-opener. Not because Romano is more credible than Ornstein (he isn't), but because Romano is something of a tap-in merchant; he tends not to break news so much as he certifies it having broken. Pretty much by definition if he is taking the shot, it's because that sucker is already rolling toward the open mouth of the goal. If he's flatly stating, in his own words, that Mbappé is "100-percent" a goner, well, that seems very different from some Diario AS bozo breaking the news that there are unnamed members of Mbappé's entourage who believe he has always wanted to play for Real Madrid at some point in his life.

Maybe he's really leaving this time! There's still the question of where he'll end up if he does. For all its glamour and history Real Madrid can't offer anywhere close to the scale of salary Mbappé could get from at least a handful of Premier League clubs; it's already been reported a few different places that the steady crappiness of Madrid's contract offers is why he hasn't already agreed to go there.

Moreover, Mbappé has already spent key years of his career working in a diminished continental league generally unworthy of his talents, with only the Champions League offering an opportunity to prove himself against the toughest competition; La Liga, where a solid majority of the clubs are broke and Real Madrid's principal rival is a flaming clown-car with four flat tires pinwheeling into a ravine, figures to be pretty much more of the same—but with a fraction of the paycheck. The real juice, assuming he's interested, would be at someplace like Liverpool or Arsenal, where he could slug it out on the biggest stage among and against his most legitimate rivals for world supremacy.

He still might stay. I'm just putting that down for the record. He still might stay in Paris. Do not say that I didn't put that down anywhere. Don't do it.

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