Kylian Mbappe is a galactic pain in the arse but is just about worth it

Ryan Baldi
Mbappe transfer
Kylian Mbappe is expected to sign for Real Madrid.

Since the day Kylian Mbappe signed for Paris Saint-Germain from Monaco as an 18-year-old in 2017, there has been a sense of inevitability that he would at some stage move on to Real Madrid.

From widely circulated pictures of the French forward in his childhood bedroom surrounded by pictures of Cristiano Ronaldo, to what in more recent years has become a public mutual courtship between the player and Europe’s most gloried club, the only thing surprising about Mbappe’s mooted move to Madrid is that it hasn’t already happened.

Finally, this summer will bring an end to a transfer saga that by now measures about three De Gea-to-Real Madrids, two Hazard-to-Chelseas and half a Gaitan-to-Manchester United. Mbappe’s PSG contract will expire. He will not renew it. And while a move to Madrid has not yet been announced, it’s the worst kept secret since Antonio Conte’s hair transplant.

When he goes, PSG will lament that he will be someone else’s superstar. But as they find themselves no longer reaching for the paracetamol to ease near-constant Mbappe-induced headaches, they might also be relieved that he will be someone else’s problem.

READ: Where is Kylian Mbappe in the year’s top goalscorers list?

Madrid’s first serious move to prise Mbappe from Paris came in 2021. After their interest was rebuffed, they returned again the following year, agreeing terms on a deal that would have taken the player to the Bernabeu as a free agent that summer. But Mbappe made an unexpected U-turn and instead decided to stay with the Ligue 1 side.

So desperate were PSG to retain Mbappe in 2022 that they not only made him the highest-paid player in the world; they also took the unprecedented – and, frankly, bonkers – step of affording him a degree of control over the club’s transfer policy. If that wasn’t enough to further inflate his ego, the fact that the president of France, Emmanuel Macron, personally called the player to plead with him to stay would certainly have swelled his sense of self-importance.

And Mbappe was just 16 games into that deal when rumours circulated that he wanted out the following January, unimpressed by the transfer dealings over which he had been bafflingly granted sway and dismayed at being asked to play as a No.9.

PSG refused to sell. But comments made the following summer by Leonardo, who’d recently been sacked after three years as sporting director at the Parc des Princes, urged an end to Mbappe’s unhealthy dominion.

“For the good of PSG, I think the time has come for Mbappe to go, no matter what,” he told L’Equipe. “Paris-Saint-Germain existed before Kylian Mbappe and it will exist after him. He’s been in Paris for six years and, over those six seasons, five different clubs have won the Champions League, none of which had Mbappe in their ranks. That means it’s entirely possible to win this competition without him.”

The club didn’t exactly heed Leonardo’s warning. The two-year deal Mbappe signed in 2022 included an option for a further year that, at the start of this season, the World Cup winner confirmed he would not exercise. And so began an intensification of the circus that has long surrounded Mbappe. A €300 million bid from the Saudi Pro League was accepted, but he turned down the move. Then PSG decided that, if he refused to accept an immediate transfer, they’d ostracise him until he agreed to a renewal.

That tactic was never likely to work. No player wields as much power and influence over a top continental club as Mbappe does at PSG; at this point, he is a monster of their own bungled creation. He was pictured in the stands for PSG’s opening game against Lorient in August, smiling and joking as the reigning champions failed to break down a side that had finished 10th the previous season.

READ: The ridiculous statistics of Kylian Mbappe

PSG needed Mbappe more than he needed them. And no one was more acutely aware of that fact – nor more amused by it – than the player himself. He was welcomed back into the fold the following week, coming off the bench to score in a 1-1 draw with Toulouse.

In March, manager Luis Enrique sought to re-emphasise the point that no player is bigger than the club – doubtful as that sentiment’s accuracy may be in this case – when he substituted the 25-year-old at half-time of an away trip to Monaco. Unfazed and ever the attention magnet, rather than join his teammates on the bench, Mbappe quickly changed into a tracksuit and strolled around the tunnel on his phone before casually joining his family in the stands.

Yet despite all this drama, Mbappe is having one of the best individual seasons of his career. He has scored 39 goals in 40 all-competitions games, just three shy of his career-best total with more than a month left in the season.

Ten points clear at the top of the table, PSG will retain their Ligue 1 title. There is a Treble still on the cards, too, with a Coupe de France final against Lyon next month and an imminent Champions League quarter-final showdown with Barcelona. It’s unlikely any of that would have been possible had PSG stuck to their guns and forced Mbappe to rot in the reserves for what remained of his time in Pairs. He brings immeasurable fuss. But he is also very probably worth it.

When Mbappe’s move to Madrid is finally sealed, he will join a lineage of superstars to have called the Bernabeu home. His status within the game is such that his arrival will receive frenzied coverage to match anything from the club’s Galactico era, when they’d sign a global superstar – from Luis Figo to Zinedine Zidane to Ronaldo to David Beckham – every summer.

And there is no doubt he will be a success on the pitch. Combining skill, technique and athleticism to rare levels, he is one of very few players in the world who would represent an instant upgrade on Madrid’s wealth of talent in attack.

Plus he has the swaggering self-assuredness to thrive under the glare of the Bernabeu’s floodlights. Mbappe can – and probably will – drive Madrid to glory in La Liga and the Champions League serval times over. They just have to accept that he can also be a galactic pain in the arse.

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