This is the final feature in our series counting down French football’s 20 hottest properties, those most likely to feature in elite clubs’ 2023 transfer plans. Read every article and see the rundown in full here on GFFN.
Many clubs move in cycles. For some, like Monaco, under vice-president Vadim Vasilyev seeing groups of players on after major success, this was a deliberate strategy. Others use more natural processes of rebuilding, as Sir Alex Ferguson did so expertly at Manchester United. Since QSI bought PSG, however, there’s been one target and one era – escalation. That, however, may soon have to change.
Last summer’s signing of Lionel Messi followed by Kylian Mbappé’s mammoth new contract a year later saw PSG’s largesse peak. Having signed perhaps the greatest player of all time and secured the sport’s current leading light in the medium term, Paris’ ‘Supergalacicos’ policy can go no further. Where else is there to go? The current generation of celebrity strikers are all well into their thirties and, perhaps Mbappé and maybe Erling Haaland aside, the sport lacks genuine replacements as it stands.
Paris’ peak may be short-lived, however. Next summer will be a crucial moment with the futures of both Messi and Mbappé in flux. Messi’s two-year deal in France is up at the end of the campaign and, although talks have opened over a new contract, there’s no guarantee the 35-year-old will stay. The French media meanwhile has been awash with reports Mbappé is regretting his decision to sign that new deal and is targeting a move in 2023.
Although PSG’s Qatari owners will see both players’ continued stay during the Qatar World Cup as a major victory, their exit would still be hugely damaging for the club on and off the pitch. PSG may at last be forced to start a new cycle.
Paris ‘sporting adviser’, Luis Campos, effectively the club’s ideological spearhead, has already told Messi that he wants the Argentine in a PSG shirt next season and is handling contract talks, which are still in their infancy, personally. Messi meanwhile remains coy about his plans. Although, having struggled to settle at first, understandably so having lived in Barcelona since his mid-teens, Messi is now reportedly enjoying life in France and is open to staying for at least one more campaign.
However, Messi’s priority remains the World Cup, likely to be his last, where victory would cement his place as perhaps the sport’s greatest-ever player and no decisions will be made until after the tournament. With the final on December 18th, that means Messi is likely to reach January 1st when he’s able to sign a pre-contract agreement with another club. Barcelona have made no secret of their desire for repatriation, although their financial situation is likely to be prohibitive.
Beyond Qatar, Messi’s only real target is to win the Champions League again. It’s eight seasons since the last of his four titles with Barcelona and, not unlike QSI and PSG, the forward has become increasingly desperate to win it again since. Should Messi stall on a decision until the summer, a PSG Champions League title (they are better placed than ever) could see Messi conclude that his work in Paris, and perhaps European football generally, is done. He’ll be 36 in June and could theoretically take the chance to bow out at the top.
However, some electric recent form proves he’s far from finished and, should Mbappé find a way out of Paris and that record-equalling fifth Champions League (although Real Madrid’s Paco Gento has 6 European Cups) remain elusive, Messi may see another move as best for achieving his goals. With Barcelona not yet in a position to offer a robust challenge, other potential suitors in England could yet make an approach.
Mbappé’s motivations, meanwhile, are far more nebulous. It has been suggested that long-term suitors Real Madrid, for example, fear news over a desire to leave has been transmitted by the player’s advisers as a way of putting pressure on PSG to meet his demands. The 23-year-old was supposedly given new status within the club as part of that new contract last summer, affording the player a say in decision-making and recruitment. Campos’ arrival, for example, was first discussed during contract negotiations, Mbappé being a friend of the sporting director after the pair overlapped at Monaco.
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It’s clear Mbappé wants to play alongside a more traditional number nine rather than being used as the ‘pivot’ forward himself, as eluded to in his now infamous “pivotgang” Instagram post. On duty with France in September the striker explained “different things are asked of me here than in regard to my club. I have a lot more freedom here.” Mbappé also explained he has never asked to leave PSG, a statement neatly worded to avoid saying whether he actually wants to leave or not.
Told to “shut up and know his pace” by Zlatan Ibrahimović this week, Mbappé’s feeling of self-importance is clearly growing. Although his increasingly entitled demeanour is disappointing, being given unprecedented power within your club and the country’s president asking you to not switch jobs for national importance while also signing the most expensive sports contract ever would affect anyone’s ego. Ironically, that gargantuan €630m contract was likely a major reason PSG couldn’t meet Mbappé demands on recruitment this summer.
Given PSG’s form and the strength of Christophe Galtier’s squad, Mbappé’s reported reasons for supposedly seeking a move seem almost laughable but his haughty attitude in recent times suggests that such a thought process is at least possible. In theory, a potential PSG Champions League win could see Mbappé follow a similar path to Messi in that he too would have achieved everything he can at PSG and seek new challenges.
The potential joint departure of both players could equal a crisis for PSG, especially considering that, although Campos has started to make changes, their squad is still built to win now. Without Messi and Mbappé, while many other senior players approach or pass 30, Paris may, at last, be forced to start a new cycle beyond constant escalation. Exactly what that new PSG era looks like remains even more in flux than the future of their star forwards.