untung99.biz: PSG have a new head coach but the same old Kylian Mbappe problem

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Here is a brief summary of the past six months at Paris Saint-Germain.

A record 11th league title, but 10 defeats in 50 games overall. A row between Neymar, Marquinhos and sporting director Luis Campos in the dressing room. A Champions League last-16 exit which exposed their lack of squad depth. A two-week suspension for Lionel Messi after skipping training for an unauthorised trip to Saudi Arabia. A protest by ultras outside the club headquarters, then another outside Neymar’s house. An absent Neymar pictured on social media playing poker in Monaco while his team-mates secured the title. A goalkeeper, Sergio Rico, seriously injured (but thankfully now out of ICU) when he was trampled by a horse. Messi missing the Ligue 1 player of the year awards to go to a Coldplay gig in Barcelona. A letter from Kylian Mbappe stating he does not want to trigger a contract extension. A head coach, Christophe Galtier, newly sacked while facing allegations of discrimination at a previous club — which he denies — with a trial looming and a possible three-year prison term if found guilty.

Welcome to PSG, Luis Enrique. 

Luis Enrique and Nasser Al-Khelaifi (Photo: Geoffroy van der Hasselt/AFP via Getty Images)

It is no wonder the back-to-back French champions wish to draw a line under all that has gone before and move into a new era — or a “new cycle” as Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the club’s president, described it on Wednesday afternoon.

At times this year, PSG’s sporting project has faded into the background behind an off-field circus, one that is adorned with talent but distracted by drama. Yes, the club have enjoyed success, whether that be their dominance of French football (they have now won more titles than any other French club after their ninth in 11 seasons) or their club rebranding, which has seen PSG rapidly achieve international recognition. But on the field, they have been derided for failing to achieve what their investments should live up to.

Not any more.

Well, at least that’s the hope.


Al Hilal make €300m offer for Kylian Mbappe

This week was the moment where the line in the sand was drawn. Specifically, it was on Wednesday morning, when the club confirmed the departure of the beleaguered Galtier, and invited the world’s media to attend the unveiling of Luis Enrique, as well as explore their new €300million (£256.3m, $329.1m) training centre.

A new beginning? Those are words that have been spoken at PSG before, but there is a material difference this time.

The imagery was all there for a fresh start. The training ground is impressive. It covers 74 hectares (183 acres), will have 17 pitches and will house all of PSG’s sports, including judo and handball as well as men’s and women’s football. There is a swimming pool, a school for the academy youngsters, sleeping quarters for first-team players before games, a restaurant and even a vegetable patch, so they can become more self-sufficient.

It is not yet complete, though.


Bids, bluffs and opt-in clauses: Mbappe and PSG set for another summer of high-stakes poker

PSG Feminine, the women’s team, will not move into the site west of Paris until next year. Neither will the academy. But the men’s first team, who are due to return for pre-season in the next few days, will be entering a new world. The club’s old site, the Camp des Loges nearby, attracted criticism — even privately from former senior members of the coaching staff. There is no question PSG have one of the best training centres in the game now, befitting a club seeking to preserve their spot at football’s top table. It is the type of setting that can transform the mentality of a club.

The new training ground must have been a part of the appeal for Luis Enrique. After the struggles of his predecessors, and the cacophony of noise that can be generated in Paris, it could seem questionable why any manager would want to step into this maelstrom. But overseeing a new era is alluring. In another sense, this is a job where you cannot lose as a coach. PSG are a cut above in France, and are comfortable favourites for another league title a year from now.

Their main aim has been to win the Champions League, where PSG have consistently come up short, reaching just one final, in 2020 — the season the pandemic turned the final two knockout rounds into single-leg ties played on neutral turf in Portugal. But overseeing these years of European failure has rarely derailed top-level coaching careers: Carlo Ancelotti is back at Real Madrid, Thomas Tuchel is now in charge of Bayern Munich, Mauricio Pochettino leads Chelsea and Unai Emery is transforming Aston Villa.

“The Champions League is almost unfair, it only takes one bad game to be out,” Luis Enrique said. “Clearly, this is a goal for us. Being ambitious is a good thing. We want to get the best version of the team. It’s a complicated challenge, but I fully accept it.”

Pochettino lasted 17 months at PSG but is the new Chelsea coach (Photo: Henry Nicholls/AFP via Getty Images)

This sense of a new opportunity has continued since that press conference, as an early run of summer signings, overseen by Al-Khelaifi and Campos, have started to be unveiled. Milan Skriniar, who arrives as a free agent from Inter Milan in a deal agreed months ago, was the first to be announced. Then came Marco Asensio, again for free after his Real Madrid contract expired. On Friday, Manuel Ugarte, a tough-tackling 22-year-old Uruguayan midfielder, was officially signed from Sporting Lisbon for €60million, on Saturday evening the club announced the arrival of Kang-In Lee from Mallorca. There are more to come, too: Lucas Hernandez from Bayern Munich and Benfica’s Cher Ndour.

A tide of new faces rolls in with the club’s fourth coach in five years, whose task will be to lead this team to a new dawn, defined by a clear philosophy. Because a footballing identity, beyond all the glamour signings, is something PSG have lacked. Luis Enrique, whose possession-dominant positional style shone brightest previously at Barcelona, where he won the treble in 2015 and was praised for the attacking and more transitional qualities of his team, is tasked with changing that.

“For us, he is one of the best coaches in the world,” said Al-Khelaifi. “The way he plays football, the attacking system — that’s what we love. It’s not results. Of course, we are ambitious, but I want to go and enjoy my team playing football.”

On paper, this all sounds great. Wholesale changes to usher in the next phase, and there is no denying the ingredients are there for the new start. But right now, there is one massive elephant in the room, and it is overshadowing the start of a reset.


For all the good intentions, Luis Enrique will be confronted by traditional PSG drama from the get-go. His best player’s future is in the balance, and it is far from resolved.


Kylian Mbappe, the man of the week

This week alone has seen several new, public developments that have taken the spotlight away from their new signings and Luis Enrique’s unveiling. Yesterday, France Football published an interview with Mbappe, conducted before the recent drama, in which the France captain stated he feels his achievements have been “trivialised” and that, among other things, playing for PSG “does not help”.

He described PSG as a “divisive team” that “attracts gossip”. The interview did not go down well in the PSG dressing room, with six players, including two new recruits, contacting club president Nasser Al Khelaifi to complain.

His future is now a tense standoff that is playing out in public. The background to the resurgence of this saga began when Mbappe delivered a letter to PSG last month, outlining that he has no intention of exercising the contract extension clause in his current deal. This development became public. Then, he reaffirmed to the media that he wants to stay for another season. His contract runs until the summer of 2024, and that means he is poised to leave on a free transfer next summer.

For PSG, that outcome would be a disaster. They do not want to see their star man, France’s captain, go for nothing a year from now, and that is what Al-Khelaifi stated on Wednesday. “We cannot let the best player in the world right now leave for free,” he said. “That is impossible.”

Mbappe is on one of the richest contracts in world football, and running it down so he can walk away when it expires is a problem for the club. Not just because of their financial fair play limitations, although they would be greatly impacted and may require player sales to offset the fact PSG would not receive a fee for him. It also plays a part in their search for new investment.

Those with knowledge of the matter — speaking on condition of anonymity to protect their relationships, as with all those consulted for this piece — believe PSG will look to bring new money into the club within the next two financial quarters. Mbappe’s contract, though, is so large that possible investors out there see that financial weight as a liability.


Mbappe ‘can’t leave’ PSG for free – chairman Al-Khelaifi

The club have written a letter too, in response to Mbappe, which was dated July 3. In it, they introduce a deadline for a decision, July 31, and state they cannot countenance a departure for no fee next year. They also lean on the sense of the striker honouring his legacy. “(An exit) can only be part of a future sale or continuity beyond June 30, 2025, which was clearly established between us,” the letter states. “It’s how all the great players, like you, left their clubs; leaving a lasting legacy and helping in turn, the club that has helped you, and supported your family, since your teenage years.”

It also outlines how the leaking of Mbappe’s initial letter “did not fail to cause us enormous harm”, further aggravated by the player “announcing to the market that you would be free on June 30, 2024”. The sense of honouring his word about not leaving for free is something that, according to the French newspaper L’Equipe, Mbappe privately disputes. His entourage could not be reached for comment.

PSG’s sense was that matters were progressing in a positive direction regarding a renewal before Mbappe’s letter, even as little as three weeks ago, and that this about-turn from the 24-year-old stems from fellow striker Karim Benzema’s decision to leave Real Madrid this summer. For the club, renewing Mbappe’s contract and then allowing a sale next summer is an outcome that suits all parties. But fundamentally, this present situation leaves PSG in paralysis — which is a description used by the club in their letter to Mbappe.

Benzema joined Al Ittihad in June (Photo: AFP via Getty Images)

A resolution lies with Mbappe. As much as PSG may feel perturbed, the reality remains that the player holds the key cards. He was given a contract of two years with an option of a third year by the club, as well as that high salary, plus an influence on player recruitment and even on the appointment of sporting director Campos.

PSG can only really play on the idea of ‘doing the right thing’ and hope that the prospect of spending the next year facing upset PSG supporters as his contract runs down, or an impact on his long-term legacy at the club, can prove persuasive. The reaction to yesterday’s interview on social media suggests fans are not taking kindly to the present situation.

But this is Mbappe’s call, and that reflects the legacy of player power at PSG, which still hangs over their attempts to bring in the new era.

For Luis Enrique, though, his remit of leading a revamp is essentially on hold because of this impasse. It affects the club’s planning and the extent to which he can recruit players or, indeed, may have to sell others. In a football sense, this is limiting. Will he be able to count on the world’s best player in the coming season? What will his final squad for 2023-24 look like? Will be stuck in the same cycles as his predecessors, guided by the prevailing winds of off-field drama?

“When I signed, we spoke about how to form a team. We always remain open and a lot of things can happen,” he said. “These are subjects I will keep private — a bit of professional secrecy. I can’t give confidences. But we will try to make the best squad possible.”

The job of steering PSG into calmer times has been tough for many a coach. Whether Luis Enrique can achieve tranquillity, time will tell. For now, PSG’s line in the sand is not fully complete.

The shadows of what has gone before are looming over their attempts to move forward, and the only way into the light is if they can resolve Mbappe’s future swiftly.

(Top photo: Getty Images)