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Kylian Mbappe proves Real Madrid still retain their allure despite their crumbling empire

PSG forward Kylian Mbappe
(Image credit: PA Images)

Money, it transpires, can’t buy you everything. Paris Saint-Germain are discovering it cannot purchase the undying loyalty of a Parisian. Kylian Mbappe revealed he told them in July he wanted to leave. Instead, he remains trapped at the world’s richest club. If many another would dream of the prospect of playing alongside Lionel Messi and Neymar in perhaps the most star-studded forward line in footballing history, Mbappe still feels determined their union will be a one-season affair.

The chances are that 2022’s most momentous transfer will also be its most predictable: Mbappe to Real Madrid. Player and club have been circling around each other for a dozen years. Florentino Perez famously has an obsession with Mbappe. Real have monitored and approached Mbappe; he has had a long-term plan to reach the Bernabeu where everywhere else feels a staging post on the journey.

Beyond making him feel wanted, a lack of logic reigned in Real’s magnificently bizarre bid at the end of the transfer window. Real, despite being short of money and with huge debts, offered £197 million for a player who they can get on a free transfer next summer. PSG rejected an offer of £197 million for a footballer they will lose for nothing in 2022. 

It was an exercise in stubbornness, a hugely expensive gamble that they will win the Champions League this year or a seemingly misconceived belief Mbappe will change his mind and re-sign. 

Which may have ignored his hero worshipping of Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo and the way Mbappe seems to feel himself destined to play for Real. 

Perhaps his image of Real is distinctly different to the reality, to the team who lost to Sheriff Tiraspol and then Espanyol in one of their most ignominious weeks ever; perhaps love has blinded him to the sense that Real do not have anyone remotely resembling a world-class player under 29 and some of the old-timers who meet that criteria are in decline. 

Perhaps the status as the main attraction appeals; it felt utterly uncontroversial when Didier Deschamps said this week that Mbappe will win the Ballon d’Or and it may enhance his case if he is not overshadowed by Messi and Neymar. It will be harder to do that if the calibre of his team-mates means Real miss out on the major honours but maybe Mbappe has concluded PSG will remain incredibly expensive nearly men.

Perhaps Real are benefiting from their glorious history, which gives the footballing royalty an allure the nouveaux riches cannot buy. It is apparent Real feels more of a destination club to him than PSG but the historic giants have an aura; that Mbappe wants to move to this Real Madrid brings to mind Gordon McQueen’s famous quote that 99 percent of players would say they want to join Manchester United and the other 1 percent are liars.   

At a time when Real’s finances, if not as bad as Barcelona’s, are hardly in a healthy position, they will be rescued by their past, by their reputation as the world’s biggest club, by their image as the spiritual home of the Galactico, by the prospect of following in the footsteps of Ronaldo and Zidane, by their very Real Madridness. Mbappe could be Real’s most catalytic free transfer since Ferenc Puskas. 

It feels a deal with the potential to reshape the European pecking order. This could be the most mediocre Real side since they limped in sixth in La Liga in 1996, but an old team can be reshaped and revitalised by a generational talent. Perhaps La Liga, shorn of its superstars, can piggyback on Mbappe to stage a renaissance. Or maybe PSG will use their limitless wealth to sign someone else and become the world’s best team without the man who may become its finest player of the 2020s.

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Richard Jolly also writes for the National, the Guardian, the Observer, the Straits Times, the Independent, Sporting Life, Football 365 and the Blizzard. He has written for the FourFourTwo website since 2018 and for the magazine in the 1990s and the 2020s, but not in between. He has covered 1500+ games and remembers a disturbing number of the 0-0 draws.