A few days ago, Nasser Al-Khelaifi, president of Paris Saint-Germain, ran into Daniel Levy, the president of Tottenham, and made a comment about how they were both facing a similar delicate situation: their club’s stars entered their last year of contract without having renewed it, so if they didn’t sell them this summer they could go in 2024 without leaving anything in the cash box. Levy pointed out that, in fact, their cases were different, because Harry Kane would never leave Tottenham without another club paying for a transfer, something that Kylian Mbappé had announced that he was preparing to do. And he was right.
PSG has been stunned for almost a month by the behavior of the player, around whom they thought they were building an ambitious project that would finally lead them to win the Champions League. They felt deeply betrayed since they learned about the letter in which Mbappé informed that he would not activate the option in his contract to extend their bond for one season, until 2025, but that he intended to finish his commitment and leave for free in 2024. According to sources familiar with the negotiations, PSG was perplexed; because of how the attacker’s last contract had been structured and because of what had been happening between the player and the club until a few weeks before.
Paris Saint-Germain had spent months negotiating an extension until 2025, under more generous conditions. For instance, they had discussed the possibility that, regardless of salary, Qatar Sports Investments (the fund that owns PSG) would invest in some of the businesses that Mbappé is preparing, including a representation agency. The talks were well advanced.
In addition, the current contract states that if the player renewed it before July 31, he would receive a renewal premium of around €60 million ($67 million), in addition to the first payment of €80 million ($89 million) of the loyalty premium contemplated in last year’s agreement. Thus, if the Frenchman goes ahead with his announcement not to renew and stay at PSG until next June, he will not receive the renewal bonus, but he will still pocket the loyalty bonus.
The club estimates that Real Madrid has reserved some €150 million ($167 million) for a possible purchase this summer, which they suspect that, at least in part, would go to the player as a transfer bonus if he is released in 2024. That amount would more than make up for what he would lose by not extending his contract under the terms of the current agreement.
At PSG they know that the player has the upper hand: they can’t sell him if he doesn’t want to, and they can’t force him to renew. Al-Khelaifi’s words last Wednesday at the end of Luis Enrique’s presentation sum up his frustration: “If he wants to stay, we want him to stay, but we need to sign a new contract. We cannot let the best player in the world go for free. That’s impossible,” he said. “If he doesn’t renew in two weeks, the door is open.”
In truth, the two-week deadline is not set in stone; according to sources familiar with the negotiations, it is more a sign of urgency. The key date is July 31, which forces the club to pay the loyalty premium and which also marks the boundary for the player to opt for the renewal bonus. If that date passes and he gives up that amount, the incentive to continue until June 2024, leave for free and collect the Madrid premium will be even greater.
The club is paralyzed before a situation they refuse to accept as definitive. They believe that they can find a way to convince him to extend the agreement so that both he and the club make money.
They also understand that Mbappé's move places the institution under serious financial risk. They believe that if they do not charge for the transfer they would be forced to sell players and would find it difficult to hire others. In addition, the same sources indicate that the move comes at a time in which some investors are assessing the possibility of taking positions among the PSG stockholders, and the uncertainty makes the operation difficult.
The broken word
Al-Khelaifi’s frustration also comes from a sense of betrayal. Last spring, when the end of the previous contract was approaching and Madrid was preparing to sign him for free, the president of PSG managed to get him to sign a new agreement, although not the one the executive had in mind; he wanted him to commit for three years, until 2025, but the player only agreed to two, plus an optional one that would be entirely his decision.
The solution worried Al-Khelaifi, who nevertheless managed to obtain a verbal commitment from Mbappé: he would never leave for free. Although the pact was not written down, on May 21 of last year the player agreed to pose next to the club’s president wearing a shirt with “2025″ stamped on the back.
The club’s turmoil comes not only from the breach of the verbal agreement, but also from the way in which they found out about his intentions. On June 12, they learned that Mbappé had written a letter in which he notified that he would not extend his contract. The circumstances are peculiar: it is a document dated almost a year earlier, on July 15, 2022, but that the player did not send to the club, and that the L’Équipe newspaper received last month, before Al-Khelaifi.
The move has put PSG in a very delicate position. Still, the club sees a notable crack in the player’s strategy: the damage to his image. They believe that this fundamental attribute would be tainted if he endures a year during which he is known to have betrayed his word, only to go without leaving any money. They also allude to the foreseeable negative reaction of the ultras. A survey released last Sunday by polling firm Odoxa revealed that Mbappé's image is indeed becoming deteriorated, with the fans perceiving him as less likeable and less humble.
Meanwhile, in the offices of Madrid they watch it all from a distance. They maintain that the player has stated that he wants to fulfill his contract and that there is nothing that PSG can do. “There’s no point,” says a source familiar with the club’s position.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition