But that, rest assured, is just an illusion. Money, in fact, barely came into the negotiations, certainly with PSG In Mbappe’s telling, that particular subject appeared only at the end: There were a “few minutes” of discussions about how much he would be paid, he said, but there were many months picking over the precise nature of PSG’s “sporting project.” Quite what shape that project takes is not yet clear, of course.
Mbappé has denied that the three-year deal he signed last week includes a set of clauses that guarantee he has a veto, in effect, over various appointments at the club, ranging from managers to sporting directors to players. Whether the clauses are written down hardly matters. It is inconceivable that any club would make the sort of financial commitment PSG has made to the 23-year-old Mbappé and not run crucial decisions past him. Lionel Messi enjoyed similar influence in his later years at Barcelona. That is the privilege afforded to the world’s best players. It does not, though, indicate that there has been quite so much of a shift in PSG’s “sporting project” as Mbappe might want to believe.
For the past 10 years, PSG’s policy has been to hire extravagantly gifted superstars at eyewatering costs and cater to their whims. There are countless stories about Neymar’s occasionally laissez-faire approach to training. At least one coach found that his squad did not, deep down, agree with him that it might need to press its opponents. PSG has fostered an indulgent, individualistic ethos, with little or no thought for structure or system, and that has, ultimately, prevented the club realizing its greatest ambition: winning the Champions League.
To break with that, PSG’s plan appears to be to retain an extravagantly gifted superstar at an eye-watering cost and cater to his whims. And the cost is eye-watering. Mbappe will pick up at least $75 million in salary over the course of his contract, after taxes.
There is a $125 million golden handshake to sign on. Factor in the roughly $200 million PSG turned down from Real Madrid last summer, and the deal has cost PSG $400 million or so. It is easy, now, to be dazzled by money in football, to feel inoculated against the sport’s excess. There are, after all, just so many zeros. After a while, the numbers cease to offend, creeping higher and higher until it seems arbitrary to draw a line — why is $25 million a year too much, but $15 million a year acceptable? — and the figures start to blur into incomprehension. But they do matter in the end because of what follows in their wake. Money in football isn’t really about money.
The players don’t genuinely believe that they require those extra few hundred thousand dollars because otherwise they’ll be bereft. Yes, they generally (and understandably) want to maximize their earnings from a brief career, but their motivations are often more rooted in power, status and worth. The statement released in the aftermath of Mbappe’s decision by Javier Tebas, outspoken president of The leaguewas a strange one, fermented almost entirely from sour grapes. His central tenet — that the best way to protect everyone from competitive imbala n c e w a s t o introduce more of it to the competition he runs — fell somewhere between craven and hypocritical.
And yet, under all of that, Tebas has a point. It is dangerous for salaries to be artificially inflated by clubs with no constraints whatsoever on their finances. It does pose a threat to the health of football as a whole. It is, in certain lights, not entirely dissimilar to the basic problem of the Super League. The issue, of course, is that there is nobody, nobody at all, who is prepared to do anything about it. Tebas was not the only executive to be provoked by Mbappe’s signing into making a slightly odd statement.
His Ligue 1 counterpart, Vincent Labrune, responded to Tebas by reminding everyone that both Real Madrid and Barcelona have been found to have benefited from illegal state aid. PSG President Nasser Al-Khelaifi himself took the unusual stance of suggesting Tebas was concerned that Ligue 1 might catch La Liga, simultaneously misunderstanding that worrying about that sort of thing is the essence of Tebas’ job, and apparently denigrating the league that both his club and his broadcast network, beIN Sports, have done so much to subsidize in recent years. (None of this was quite so strange as French President Emmanuel Macron intervening to persuade Mbappe to stay in Paris: Macron is a sincere and passionate Marseille fan, and should presumably love nothing more than to see Mbappe disappear to Spain, along with most of his teammates.)
That all of them could see no further than their own agendas was neither surprising nor outrageous. Tebas’ role is to promote and protect La Liga, just as al-Khelaifi’s role — or one of them, at any rate — is to act in the best interests of PSG. And it is, without question, in the best interests of PSG not only to hoard as much talent as possible, but to make it incrementally more difficult for all of its rivals to keep up