Why Mbappé is finally leaving PSG for Real Madrid

Last week marked the beginning of the end for the longest-running, most high-profile transfer saga of recent years. Kylian Mbappé has told Paris Saint-Germain that he’ll leave the club when his contract expires this summer, and that’s a significant step in the superstar forward’s journey toward joining Real Madrid, the club that has coveted him for so long.

If you feel like we’ve been here before, you’re right: Mbappé could have chosen Madrid before he signed for PSG in 2017. He could have arrived in Madrid in the summer of 2021, when PSG rebuffed a string of offers, or in 2022 when everybody — including Mbappé and Madrid — was convinced that he would sign on a free transfer before he bowed to PSG pressure and renewed his contract.

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Last June, Mbappé’s revelation that he would not be extending his contract any further — meaning he would be available in 2024 as a free agent — left Madrid hopeful of a deal, but again, Mbappé stayed in Paris. That meant more months of speculation before ESPN reported on Feb. 3 that the player was finally ready to confirm his long-anticipated departure, with Madrid the likely destination.

Madrid and Mbappé are in talks, with the club optimistic of reaching an agreement soon. In the meantime, ESPN examines the player’s decision-making process over recent months to assess where that decision leaves Mbappé, Real Madrid and PSG.

Mbappé’s perspective: How he finally made his decision

On paper, it might look like an easy decision.

Mbappé, who was born in Paris, has spent seven seasons at PSG. In Ligue 1, France’s top league, he won everything on multiple occasions. He also tried to bring the Champions League crown to Paris for the first time ever, coming closest in 2020 when they lost to Bayern Munich in the final. He broke pretty much every individual club record possible — including surpassing Pedro Miguel Pauleta, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edison Cavani as the top scorer in the club’s history with 244 goals (as of Feb. 20) — and at 25, he will join Real Madrid, the biggest club in the world who have been trying to sign him since he was 11 years old, as a free agent.

Easy, right? Not so much if you are Mbappé or a member of his family.

Paris is their home. PSG is the club they love, a place Kylian arrived in 2017 and where he developed into the player he is today. The relationship between the Mbappé family and the people in charge of the club has not always been idyllic, to say the least. He was dropped from the first team squad and sent to train on his own for two weeks, also missing the preseason tour last summer, after telling the club he was not going to trigger the option for a third season in his contract. (The stand-off was so contentious that the French players’ union spoke up on Mbappé’s behalf.)

“It was not easy because Kylian is so smart, so driven and so determined to win and be the star,” a source familiar with the situation told ESPN. “The power struggle at times between the leaders of the club, which Kylian is part of, could be difficult.”

There was often tension: Mbappé didn’t get on with Leonardo, the former sporting director, as PSG kept falling short in Europe despite the abundant resources at Leonardo’s disposal. (For his part, Leonardo blamed Mbappe, saying in a 2023 interview that “it’s entirely possible to win [the Champions League] without him” a year after leaving the club.)

Mbappé also clashed at times with club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, much of it connected to the forward’s contract situation. After Mbappé wrote to the club in June 2023 of his intentions to not sign another deal, PSG said publicly that they would listen to offers. During the unveiling of new manager Luis Enrique in July last year, Al-Khelaifi spoke plainly about PSG’s stance on their superstar player: “I don’t want to repeat it every time: if Kylian wants to stay, we want him to stay. But he needs to sign a new contract … We don’t want to lose the best player in the world for free — we can’t do that. This is a French club.

“[Mbappé] said he would never leave for free. If he changes his mind today, it’s not my fault. We don’t want to lose the best player in the world for free, that’s very clear.”

These are just examples of a relationship that’s not always been smooth, though he is happy at the Parc des Princes. What’s more, his brother Ethan, 17, made his professional debut this year and will be part of the first-team squad next season, expected to sign a new deal soon.

The Mbappés’ life in Paris is good. His extended family is there: Kylian is able to see his niece and nephew grow up. He also has two of his best friends in football, Achraf Hakimi and Ousmane Dembélé, alongside him in the PSG first-team.

When Mbappé met with Al-Khelaifi last week, telling him personally that he had decided to leave the club, the France star asked him not to make it more difficult by trying to convince him to stay. Two years ago, Al-Khelaifi made a perfect pitch and was able to win Mbappé over by offering him decision-making power at the club — this allowed him to replace Leonardo (whom he didn’t like) with his friend Luis Campos as sporting director, be part of discussions over transfers and recruitment, as well as becoming the club’s penalty-taker instead of Neymar.

In essence, it put the France forward at the heart of the club’s dealings in addition to giving him the biggest contract ever seen in European football.

There would be none of that this time; the French superstar didn’t want feelings involved, otherwise it would have been harder to decide. “He made it clear this time that there would be no U-turn. He had made his mind up, it was his choice, the right choice at the right time and there would be no way back” another source added.

In the end, the pull of history was going to lead Mbappé to Madrid. From as young as he can remember, he wanted to wear the famous white shirt and play at the Bernabeu, and Mbappé felt this was the perfect time. We’ve been here before, of course — it wasn’t perfect two years ago when, out of contract with PSG, he had an agreement with los Blancos. It wasn’t perfect three years ago when the Spanish giants made PSG an offer of €160 million — Mbappé had just a year left on his contract at the time — but the Parisians rejected it.

It wasn’t perfect in 2017, either, when his club AS Monaco agreed a €150m fee with Madrid for his transfer behind his back, only for the forward to refuse to go to the Spanish capital. It wasn’t either when he was 11 and first went over to train with their U12 team, only to remain with AS Bondy.

Now, it is categorically the right time. Ligue 1 is arguably too small for Kylian’s talent and in European competition over the years, PSG have shown their limitations. He wants to lift the Champions League many times — just twice in his time at the club have PSG gone beyond the round of 16 in Europe’s top club competition, despite having the likes of Mbappé and Lionel Messi as teammates over the years.

When it comes to individual accolades, Mbappé also wants to win the Ballon d’Or more than once — he came closest in 2023, finishing third behind Lionel Messi and Erling Haaland — and he will have more chances of doing so in Madrid, with Vinicius Junior and Jude Bellingham alongside him on the pitch, plus manager Carlo Ancelotti on the touchline.

As negotiations continue between his mother, Fayza, his lawyers and the two clubs — PSG are on one side, hashing out the conditions of his departure and the bonuses he will waive off (between €80-100m), while Real Madrid are on the other, working out details of his new contract — Mbappé is “getting really excited” about the move, sources tell ESPN. He remembers learning Spanish at school, refining his skills later on by using it to communicate with the Spaniards and South Americans in his different squads, and is excited for the chance to use it in a very specific way: during his unveiling at the Bernabeu, a day that doesn’t look that far away. — Laurens

Where do PSG go from here, post-Mbappé?

Two years ago, when Mbappé decided to stay at PSG and sign a new contract, he insisted on a “2+1 deal” — two years guaranteed, with the option for a third year — with only him being able to trigger the option year. The club knew that not having control of that third year wasn’t good news; of course, the owners were hoping that during those first two seasons, they could show him it was worth staying even longer.

“Deep down, everyone knew that it was very likely we would be where we are now,” a source tells ESPN.

In the meantime, PSG did some things to prepare for his eventual exit; none of it was a surprise, either. Last summer, after Mbappé informed the club that he was not going to trigger his option year, the club put two plans in place. Plan A: with Mbappé and the team built around him. Plan B: without the Frenchman and with money to spend to replace him.

Plan B was activated way before Mbappé’s communication with PSG about his departure. Luis Campos, the club’s sporting director who is very close to the Mbappé clan that lobbied for him to join the club two years ago, has known for a while about his protégé’s decision, according to a source. He has had time to work on the post-Mbappé era.

To replace the 2018 World Cup winner in terms of standing, stature, talent and economic impact, they’d arguably need at least three players. The list of contenders is quite long, but five are clearly above the others, sources tell ESPN: forwards Victor Osimhen (Napoli) and Rafael Leão (Milan), midfielders Bruno Guimarães (Newcastle United), Bernardo Silva (Manchester City) and defender Leny Yoro (Lille).

The club’s transfer budget for the summer window, which runs from July until Sept. 1, could be as high as €300m, factoring in the money they have at hand and the savings generated by Mbappé’s exit. Osimhen’s release clause at Napoli is €130m, the same as Leao at Milan. Bruno‘s at Newcastle is estimated at €100m, while Silva (Manchester City) and Yoro (Lille) might require transfer fees around €40m and €50m respectively. PSG won’t be able to recruit all five of them in one window, but Osimhen is a top striker, Leao a top left-winger. Yoro (18 years old) is arguably the most promising defender of his generation. Guimaraes is a Brazilian international and Silva, the only one above the age of 26 (he is 30 in August), has won everything with Man City.

The list speaks to PSG’s ambitions, while they will also receive a boost when midfielder Xavi Simons returns from his successful loan at RB Leipzig.

There is obviously life for PSG after Mbappé, and manager Luis Enrique can build something very special from here in the French capital. Things will never be the same after a remarkable seven-year spell with Mbappé on the team, but there are reasons to be excited. — Laurens

How Real Madrid finally got their man

It has taken patience — a lot of patience — but finally, after years of waiting and wooing, it looks like Real Madrid’s courtship of Mbappé has paid off. One of the world’s best players is finally ready to leave Paris and fulfill his destiny of starring for the Spanish giants just in time for the completion of the new Santiago Bernabeu stadium, which is due to be celebrated this summer.

It has taken a while, but the timing also couldn’t be better.

On the pitch, the rejuvenation of this Real Madrid team is already well underway. Jude Bellingham, Vinícius Júnior, Rodrygo, Eduardo Camavinga and Aurélien Tchouaméni — all in their early 20s, with their best years ahead of them — now form the heart of the side, and Mbappé will fit right in as one of the dressing room’s leaders. Even without the France star, Madrid are comfortably the best team in Spain right now, sitting six points clear at the top of LaLiga. With Mbappé, their dominance for a sustained period looks a strong possibility.



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The forward is also set to join a select group: players who have turned Real Madrid down, only to still end up at the Bernabeu. That’s a reflection of just how badly the club, and president Florentino Perez, wanted to sign him. Turning down Madrid while he was still at Monaco was one thing, but his failure to push through a move from PSG, year after year — especially the dramatic, last-minute U-turn in 2022 — stung Madrid’s pride.

After that last public rejection, some voices around the club began calling for Madrid to move on from Mbappé. But the reality is that this is a player who is simply too good to cross off your wishlist, especially given Madrid’s need for an elite forward since the departure of Karim Benzema in 2023. This season, they’ve done well without one — Vinicius, Rodrygo, Bellingham, Joselu and Brahim Díaz have all contributed with 43 league goals between them — but in the long term, a club like Madrid needs an Mbappé, or an Erling Haaland, in order to achieve its lofty goals on multiple fronts.

This time around, Madrid were determined to avoid the mistakes of 2022, when the Mbappé situation was allowed to drag on until May before going PSG’s way. Real Madrid could also negotiate from a position of strength, given the way this team has progressed and impressed in the interim. When they made Mbappé a contract offer last month, they were quietly confident that the player would accept, believing they had done all they could. Little persuasion was required: Mbappé knows what Real Madrid represents, and what the club can do for his career. The shape of the team right now also makes them an even more attractive proposition; this time, there would be no abrupt change of plans.

Once the small print on Mbappé’s Madrid contract has been agreed on, the next step will be managing how and when the deal is made official. Madrid can then begin preparations for a blockbuster player presentation this summer — arguably the biggest unveiling the club has had since Cristiano Ronaldo arrived in 2009 — befitting of Mbappé’s status as the world’s best. Recent presentations — even Bellingham’s — have taken place behind closed doors at the training ground, given the construction work at the Bernabeu. For Mbappé, Madrid will be tempted to open up the stadium, looking to match the 85,000 fans who had welcomed Ronaldo 15 years earlier. After that, the real work begins of integrating Mbappé into this Real Madrid side.

Some people have questioned how Mbappé and Vinicius Junior — one of Madrid’s biggest stars, along with Bellingham — can co-exist in the same starting XI. It’s true that both players tend to operate as left-sided forwards, but Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti has worked hard to add variety to Vini Jr’s game this season, asking him to spend more time on the inside, operating in smaller spaces, as part of a front two.

That’s one possible solution. Another has been tried in recent weeks, when Ancelotti returned to playing Vinicius and Rodrygo out wide, both hugging the touchline, with Bellingham operating centrally. It’s a front-three structure that could comfortably accommodate Mbappé in any of those positions.

Nobody really doubts that every effort will be made to optimize things for both Mbappé and Vini Jr given their quality and profile, but there’s a bigger question mark around 23-year-old Rodrygo. An outstanding player who hasn’t yet reached his ceiling, he hasn’t always been happy with his game time, and that would surely be reduced further with Mbappé added to the mix.

There might be fewer opportunities for Brahim Diaz too, who has excelled in a supporting role this season. And there’s the summer arrival of Endrick to consider. But struggling to fit all of your exciting attacking talent into one team is a luxury problem and if any coach can deal with it, it’s Ancelotti. — Kirkland