Kylian Mbappé has never been bashful about admitting that it was a childhood dream to play for Real Madrid, but it appears like that dream will be deferred, for 10 months at least.
According to French outlets L'Equipe, RMC and Téléfoot, Real Madrid’s push to sign Mbappé this summer, before Tuesday’s transfer deadline, is off. Madrid, according to multiple reports, had two bids last week rebuffed by PSG, one of €160 million ($188 million) and another of €180 million ($212 million), in its attempt to pry the 22-year-old French star from the European club game's version of the Dream Team. Mbappé’s contract expires at the end of this season, however, and as a result, Madrid could agree to a pre-contract with him in January and sign him on a free transfer next summer.
The timing of everything has been wild, to say the least. Mere weeks after PSG landed Lionel Messi on a free transfer from Barcelona to team him with Mbappé and Neymar in one of the most formidable front trios of all time, the piece with the brightest future—and the one with the greatest connection to Paris—had expressed his desire to not be a part of it at all, according to PSG sporting director Leonardo.
PSG's attempts to extend Mbappé have been fruitless, with the player neglecting to follow in Neymar's footsteps after the Brazilian extended his stay to 2025 in May. Club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi had remained adamant that Mbappé would absolutely be staying for the long term and would most certainly not be sold, and it appears that the latter half will be true. Whether that is good business is another issue entirely. Being able to effectively earn back what PSG paid Monaco to sign Mbappé in the first place, all for a player who has made it clear he wants out and is willing to run out his contract, would seem like a no-brainer from a bottom-line standpoint. But from a prestige perspective and considering the club's Champions League–or-bust mentality, holding onto Mbappé for at least this season could prove worthwhile enough.
Despite all of the speculation swirling in recent days, Mbappé started for PSG on Sunday and scored both goals in a 2–0 win, looking not at all like a player who had one foot in the Spanish capital. The vaunted trio never played together, though, with Messi making his debut off the bench as a substitute for Neymar. With Mbappé set to stay, barring another 180 in this saga before the deadline hits, they'll at least have the chance to show the world the possibilities when they do get the chance to all feature as a unit. Mbappé reported to France national team camp on Monday ahead of three World Cup qualifying matches, and in those games he’ll team with Karim Benzema. When camp is over, though, they’ll be going separate ways instead of sharing a trip back to Madrid.
If Mbappé is still 100% convinced that he’ll be making that trip to Madrid next summer instead, then all this development in the transfer soap opera does is delay the inevitable. But it does also give PSG four months to make its case to have Mbappé either extend his current deal or contemplate signing a new one next summer, and it also opens the door for other clubs to enter the sweepstakes. Regardless, Real Madrid can’t sign Mbappé to any pre-contract until the winter transfer window opens, so until then, the goalposts are moved a bit on a done deal for the star forward, who, along with Dortmund’s Erling Haaland, is considered to be one of the elite young talents in the world.
One could certainly question why Madrid, whose debt level and financial situation were used as reasoning by club president Florentino Pérez for his insistence on attempting to launch the Super League, would want to spend so much now (and precisely how it’s able to spend so much) for a player it could sign to a pre-contract and then add without a fee next summer—especially if the player was so solely focused on joining the club. Perhaps after two seasons without an incoming transfer and funds raised from the sales of Raphaël Varane, Martin Ødegaard, Achraf Hakimi and Sergio Reguilón, among others, Madrid felt it was positioned to pull off the blockbuster now and leave nothing to chance. Leonardo thought perhaps that the effort was a bit of a smokescreen, either to present the facade of a club whose financial woes aren’t so bad or as a show to Mbappé that the club gave its best attempt to add him when it never fully intended to.
“It seems like a strategy to try to get a ‘no’ from us, to show that they have tried everything and to wait for a year to get Mbappé for free,” he told RMC last week.
Real Madrid’s only other addition this summer was versatile defender David Alaba, who came from Bayern Munich on a free transfer (but whose leaked contract shows it was still a very costly move), and the club also offloaded longtime captain Sergio Ramos’s wages. Ramos, like Messi, joined PSG as part of an all-time summer class that has included Hakimi, Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma and ex-Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum.
The five signings, along with the permanent addition of Danilo Pereira following his loan spell, were made in hopes of securing the club's first Champions League title. Losing Mbappé wouldn't have necessarily derailed those hopes; PSG is plenty deep. But it certainly would have taken some of the shimmer off the summer as well as delivering a hit to the club’s collective ego, to have Madrid steal its shining light.
This summer has featured some of the most landscape-altering moves the sport has seen in some time, especially in such volume. But one involving Mbappé, the transcendent star who famously had his boyhood bedroom walls plastered with posters of Cristiano Ronaldo during his time at Real Madrid, evidently will not be transpiring. Whether he winds up going next summer remains to be seen.
More Soccer Coverage: