Stuff that matters

“Ididn’t like playing on the wing at Barcelona, but if the coach asks you to do something, you do it for the good of the team,” said Thierry Henry. “There’s something bigger than everything else – the club.” That was Henry’s reaction to reports that Kylian Mbappé feels “betrayed” by PSG over failed promises and wants to leave the club in January, just 16 games after signing a new contract. Although PSG have dismissed the reports as merely rumour, they could have avoided this situation.

Mbappe’s new contract was unprecedented. Not only is the 23-year-old set to become the world’s highest paid footballer, he was reportedly handed unprecedented status within the club’s hierarchy on decision making and recruitment. However, just five months after his new deal was triumphantly announced to a jubilant Parc des Princes, Mbappé feels promises made about his place in the team, summer signings and his influence on the club have not been kept. The Frenchman was told he would be the leader, which he believes is not now the case.

Mbappé is no long the grinning teenager who exploded on to the scene at Monaco. Although a polished media performer with a well curated persona on social media, he increasingly appears self-important and even overbearing. It must be challenging to keep your ego in check when the country’s president asks you not to change jobs for the good of the nation, but Mbappé memorably stopped running and turned away in frustration having not been passed to during a PSG counterattack against Montpellier earlier this season and named himself as second favourite for the Ballon d’Or (admittedly, perhaps correctly) behind Karim Benzema. Teammate Neymar has also been angered by this egotism.

On the field, despite draws in their last three matches, PSG have started the season well and remain undefeated in Ligue 1 and the Champions League. However, Neymar and Lionel Messi, who has produced some of his best displays for PSG in recent games, have overshadowed Mbappé. PSG are not lacking firepower, making Mbappé’s complaints about not being partnered with a No 9 sound rather weak. Given the sparkling form of Messi and Neymar in coach Christophe Galtier’s new 3-4-3 set-up, it’s likely the introduction of an Olivier Giroud-type striker would only benefit one man and curtail the rest.

Galtier suggested as much this week, saying that he was “trying to reassure him by finding different options” after Mbappé bemoaned the lack of a “pivot” striker on Instagram after PSG’s goalless draw at Reims – a game they played without the injured Messi and rested Neymar. Mbappé made a similar complaint after France’s 2-0 win over Austria last month, saying: “Different things are asked of me here than with regard to my club. I have a lot more freedom here. The coach knows he has a No 9 like Oliv [Giroud] who occupies the defence and I can move around and drop into spaces. It’s different at PSG. You don’t have that. I get asked to play as a pivot.” The club unsuccessfully pursued a No 9 this summer.

Although Mbappé reportedly now sees signing the new contract as a mistake, a January departure seems unlikely. PSG desperately held on to the player, refusing a series of mammoth bids from Real Madrid, and his importance, both sportingly and politically, has only grown since then. Considering his continued high performance levels, PSG will not damage their chances of winning the Champions League mid-season. Meanwhile, the €400m asking price that was quoted to clubs who approached PSG in the summer is likely to put off all suitors. An exit next summer seems more likely.

However, the situation remains murky. A number of Mbappé’s teammates have denied witnessing any obvious unhappiness and the club’s sporting director Luís Campos, who also reportedly feels “betrayed” by the club and wants out amid interest from Chelsea, told RMC: “I’m very surprised because I spend all my days with Kylian and he’s never once asked me or the president to leave in January.” Meanwhile, Real Madrid remain interested but sceptical, suspicious that Mbappé is merely putting pressure on PSG to meet his demands.

Those demands over recruitment and style, and the fact that he feels comfortable in making them, may have already made the player’s position untenable. Although initially glad to see Mbappé stay, the PSG squad have become alienated by his haughty attitude and new powers. Teammates feel Mbappé is in the process of abandoning them and are bemused by his demeanour, which lurches between jovial and morose day-to-day.

In the past Mbappé has fallen between PSG’s two major social circles: a South American group (which has moved from mainly Spanish speakers, including Mbappé, to Portuguese of late) and a Francophone contingent. However, L’Équipe report that the striker has lost the support of close friend and right-back Achraf Hakimi as well as fellow French speakers Hugo Ekitiké, Nordi Mukiele and Presnel Kimpembe.

His standing within the mainly South American group will also be weakened by his feud with Neymar. Mbappé reportedly supported the club’s openness to selling Neymar during the off-season, and the Brazilian has also been irked by what he sees as Mbappé’s arrogance. The Frenchman described the pair’s relationship as “hot and cold” last month after arguments in training, accusations of not passing to each other and a dispute over taking penalties. Both Sergio Ramos and Messi have attempted to mediate.

Whether this latest twist amounts to a bluff, posturing, simple frustration or a true desire to leave, it’s a situation of PSG’s making following long-term mismanagement. Convincing Mbappé to stay was a major victory, but the cost could be debilitating. It’s difficult to ignore the feeling that Mbappé now sees himself as more important than the rest of the squad, even PSG itself. He’s effectively been told as much by everyone from the club to the French media to Emmanuel Macron.

Although president Nasser Al-Khelaifi and QSI will feel vindicated by Mbappé’s decision to stay in May, turning down nine-figure transfer fees for a player who wanted to leave with just one year left on his contract was reckless. Should the current situation continue to escalate, PSG’s chances of Champions League triumph, perhaps their strongest ever under QSI, could be badly damaged by infighting created by desperate promises made to keep Mbappé and the ongoing circus surrounding his future.

Selling the player may have been the prudent decision, as it seemed at the time. With Mbappé wanting out (again) with just a year to run on his contract (again), PSG will likely have a second chance to make the right call. This time it should be simple as, for Mbappé, it seems there’s now something bigger than the club.