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Paris St.-Germain has persuaded Kylian Mbappé to sign a new contract, one of the richest in soccer history, that will keep the French striker at the club for the next three years while he pursues a second consecutive World Cup with France and attempts to end the club’s string of failures in the Champions League.
His decision, announced by the club Saturday, ended Real Madrid’s hopes of luring Mbappé, arguably the best young player in the world, to the most successful team in European soccer.
Real Madrid, a 13-time European champion, had given Mbappé a contract offer that would have made the 23-year-old forward the highest paid player in its history. Its offer included a signing bonus of almost $140 million, a net salary of more than $26 million every season and complete control over his image rights.
But P.S.G., the perennial French champion that is bankrolled by gas-rich Qatar, prevented him from leaving as a free agent by offering even better terms. P.S.G. offered a similar fee but a far higher base salary (also after taxes), keeping him on a team that already includes the Argentine star Lionel Messi and the Brazilian forward Neymar, who was acquired by P.S.G. for a world-record fee of $263 million in 2017.
The saga surrounding Mbappé’s future had gripped France, and was considered a matter of such national importance that last month the French president, Emmanuel Macron, told a news conference he would do whatever he could to keep Mbappé, considered a national treasure, in the country.
P.S.G.’s success in persuading Mbappé to stay is the latest sign that the dominance of global soccer that once rested in the hands of legacy clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United has now shifted to a few deep-pocketed, Gulf-backed teams.
The Spanish league La Liga in a statement called the deal “scandalous,” given P.S.G. had reported large financial losses last season, and said it would file a complaint with European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, as well as other authorities, including the European Union.
P.S.G.’s confirmation that it had retained Mbappé came just over a week after Manchester City, owned by the brother of the ruler of the United Arab Emirates, confirmed that it had acquired Erling Haaland — a prolific Norwegian goal-scorer whose signature was considered by many an acquisition as highly sought-after as Mbappé’s.
But unlike Haaland, whose contract had to be acquired by Manchester City for an eight-figure transfer fee, Mbappé’s expiring contract in Paris made him a free agent, effectively able to choose from among the highest bidders for his prodigious talents. The unusually brief length of his new contract at P.S.G. — three years — suggests he could already be planning his move, and his next payday.
Amid an economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic, few teams but the wealthiest elite have been able to make the type of marquee signings that were once a staple of every soccer off-season. But Mbappé had made no secret of his desire to move to Real Madrid from P.S.G., and the Spanish powerhouse went all out to recruit him. His expiring contract in Paris also meant he was a free agent, available without a multimillion-dollar transfer fee.
In addition to the nine-figure signing bonus and the stunning annual salary — a huge offer even by Real Madrid’s standards — the club also was said to have offered Mbappé complete control over his image rights, a lucrative revenue stream that Real Madrid typically shares with its roster of stars.
But P.S.G. and its Qatari owners managed to offer an even better deal in a transfer soap opera that has dragged on for more than a year, ever since Real Madrid first tried to extract Mbappé from Paris with the offer of a record transfer fee.
Last summer, Real Madrid and its president, Florentino Pérez, were so intent in making Mbappé the centerpiece of the club’s efforts to return to the top of domestic and European soccer that they committed to pay more than $212 million for the forward, even though he would have been available as a free agent again this summer.
For P.S.G., retaining Mbappé provides a welcome highlight in a season that has been played against a backdrop of uncertainty after yet another failure in the Champions League. The club was eliminated early in the knockout stages — ironically by Real Madrid, which will face Liverpool for the trophy in the final next Saturday — even though it had added several A-list talents in the preseason, including Messi, who joined from Barcelona on a rich contract of his own.
P.S.G.’s strategy of bringing the most exciting talents, whatever the cost, has had mixed results. The team continued its dominance of the French league, the weakest of the five major European competitions, with yet another title this season, but success on the continental stage has continued to elude it, raising questions about the team’s durability in the toughest games.
It remains unclear if anything more than an enormous salary increase convinced Mbappé to remain in Paris. He was reported to have been frustrated when P.S.G. rejected Real Madrid’s offers last season, with the P.S.G. sporting director Leonardo saying at the time that Mbappé wanted out.
Mbappe has continued to flourish this season, however, leading the French league in goals (25) and assists (17). All the while, Real Madrid had continued to court him, and until late this week the Spanish club was convinced it had finally managed to persuade a player coveted by its president, Florentino Pérez. News media reports in Spain at the start of the week even suggested a deal was done.
In recent days, though, that confidence began to evaporate as Mbappé delayed on putting pen to paper. Then, on Friday, Mbappe’s mother, who has been involved in the negotiations, said her son was weighing two offers. Real Madrid’s worst fears were confirmed on Saturday, when Pérez, in Belgrade to follow Real Madrid’s basketball team in a European final, received a message telling him Mbappé had decided to stay at P.S.G.
For Mbappé, the deal comes amid major efforts to build his brand away from the field. The striker has spent months in talks with the United States-based talent agency Endeavor to create his own media company that will be modeled on one similar to a business built by the basketball star LeBron James. That new company could lift Mbappé profile, and his wealth, into the same ranks as Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, superstars whose global stardom now outstrips the sport they play.
With both Messi and Ronaldo now in their 30s, it is players like Mbappé and Haaland who will look to dominate soccer’s biggest prizes, including individual honors like the Ballon D’Or, awarded to the world’s best player, and competitions like the Champions League, a trophy both P.S.G. and Manchester City covet, but which neither has won.
covers some of the darker corners of the global sports industry. He is also a co-author of “Football’s Secret Trade,” an exposé on soccer’s multibillion-dollar player trading industry.