First it lost Lionel Messi. Now Paris St.-Germain, the Qatar-backed French soccer champion, could be facing the loss of another of the game’s biggest stars: Kylian Mbappé.
Mbappé, 24, one of the world’s most famous athletes and the cornerstone of the club’s plans to rebuild its identity around a core of top French talent, has informed P.S.G. in a letter that he will not renew his contract when it expires next June, according to an executive familiar with the discussions between Mbappé and P.S.G. The executive was not authorized to speak publicly about the talks, given their sensitive nature.
Mbappé’s decision could force P.S.G. to consider a move it would prefer to avoid: selling Mbappé’s playing rights as soon as this summer, rather than risk losing him for nothing when his deal expires. If the club does entertain offers for Mbappé, P.S.G. will be expected to demand a price well in excess of $200 million, and possibly one that might eclipse the world record for a player.
P.S.G.’s top officials were surprised by Mbappé’s letter, according to the executive, and learned of it after first being contacted by a French news outlet claiming to have received a copy of it before it was sent to the club. A spokeswoman for Mbappé did not respond to a request for comment. Representatives of P.S.G. also did not comment on the letter or how the club was informed of Mbappé’s intentions, which were first reported by the French sports newspaper L’Equipe.
P.S.G. had faced a similar crisis over Mbappé’s future only last summer, as the forward, then out of contract, had been poised to join Real Madrid before a last-gasp effort, and cold, hard cash, persuaded him to stay in Paris. Keeping him was a priority for Qatar, which has bankrolled P.S.G. for more than a decade and was eager to keep its team’s biggest star in its colors during a year when it was to host the men’s World Cup.
The contract Mbappé eventually signed was a two-year deal, with a player option for a third season. In his letter, a copy of which was seen by The New York Times, Mbappé told the team that he will not exercise the option, meaning his current contract, and most likely his association with P.S.G., will end after the coming season — unless P.S.G. finds a team willing to pay to acquire him sooner.
Once again, the most likely destination for Mbappé is Real Madrid, the Spanish club that was his favorite team when he was a boy, and which offered him the richest contract in its history only a year ago.
Since then Mbappé’s star has only grown, notably at the World Cup in Qatar, where he led France to the final against Messi and Argentina. Mbappé almost single-handedly wrestled a second consecutive championship to France by scoring all three of his team’s goals in a thrilling final that Argentina won in a penalty-kick shootout.
Both Messi and Mbappé then returned to Paris and helped lead P.S.G. to its second straight French league championship.
Mbappé stated desire to leave P.S.G. comes only days after Real Madrid’s president, Florentino Pérez, had responded positively to a question from a fan about whether the Spanish club would recruit Mbappé. Pérez replied that it would, “but not this year.” That may be about to change.
Last summer, in an interview with The Times ahead of the European season and the World Cup, Mbappé discussed his admiration for Real Madrid, a club that had invited him to Spain to train even before he reached his teens, and whose stars once peered out at him from posters on the wall of his childhood bedroom. After his invitation to train in Madrid, Mbappé vowed to return to the club one day, he said, but his decision to reject a record offer from Madrid to re-sign with P.S.G. had raised doubts about whether his dream would ever be realized.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” Mbappé said at the time, acknowledging that even though he had not played for Real Madrid, the team had orbited his professional career in the most profound way. “You’ve never been there, but it seems like it’s like your house, or something like this.”
Real Madrid’s presence in negotiations last year had helped bid up Mbappé’s price. When Real Madrid offered a contract worth more than $250 million over three years, P.S.G. was forced to counter with an even richer deal, one that included the opt-out clause he now plans to exercise.
While P.S.G. was not particularly sad to see the back of Messi after his two seasons in France, the potential loss of Mbappé, a French national treasure groomed in the Paris banlieues, the ring of suburbs and satellite towns that surround the capital, would herald a major crisis about the direction of the club.
Mbappé had largely escaped the wrath of the club’s supporters for a season that yielded yet another French title, a success that has now become so commonplace that it is hardly celebrated, but included another year of failure in the Champions League, the biggest prize in European soccer.
Messi, in his final months with the team, became an object of scorn: jeered by fans during matches and suspended for two weeks by the club after an unauthorized late-season vacation to Saudi Arabia. Fans this season also voiced their anger at other key players, including Neymar, the Brazilian who with Messi and Mbappé formed the most-feared forward line in soccer.
After signing his extension with P.S.G. in 2022, Mbappé said in an interview in New York that his decision to stay with the club was partly out of a desire not to leave the club as a free agent, thus depriving it of a nine-figure transfer fee. Now the club and Mbappé find themselves in exactly the same situation.
Under his current deal, Mbappé had until July 31 to inform the club whether or not he would sign up to automatically extend his contract on terms that the club believes is the richest in European soccer. In the months before sending his letter this week, Mbappé’s family and his lawyer had been in discussions with the club about a new multiyear agreement.
His apparent desire to move could mean a reprise of the same soap opera that gripped France last year, when even France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, was enlisted to persuade Mbappé to remain in France as it prepared to defend the World Cup title it won in 2018.
For P.S.G. the biggest impediment to winning over Mbappé again is not a financial one, but a sporting one. The team, which despite its routine domestic success, seems to be locked in a perennial crisis behind the scenes: It is already facing a rebuild on and off the field, including the hiring of a new coach for the second straight summer.
Messi’s departure — he has expressed a desire to join Inter Miami in the United States — was predicted, and the club is open to selling Neymar as it retools. Losing Mbappé, too, under the circumstances, could plunge a team long known for its stars into a worrying period of uncertainty.