Following years of long-distance flirting, Kylian Mbappé and Real Madrid have committed to a relationship.
The 25-year-old French superstar has committed to joining Europe’s most successful club, ESPN and French newspaper L’équipe reported Saturday, ensuring that the 2018 World Cup winner will depart his hometown Paris Saint-Germain when his current deal expires this summer. The 14-time continental champions — and in particular club president Florentino Perez — have been chasing Mbappé’s signature since he was 17 and helping Monaco reach the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League.
Seven years on, Mbappé is finally set to become the new face of Real Madrid.
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For much of its 122-year history, Los Blancos have recruited and landed the game’s best. They’ve fielded icons like David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane over the last two decades. Mbappé is a worthy successor to those greats. And while it took him longer than most expected to get there, his arrival in Madrid never stopped feeling inevitable. This is the club he wanted to join even before Real invited him, at age 11, to visit the club. It could be the reason he became fluent in Spanish in high school. But there were so many fits and starts along the way.
Madrid made its first real push with Monaco in 2017. But Mbappé chose to go home, with PSG luring him back to France’s capital for a king’s ransom of almost $200 — still the second-highest transfer fee of all time. The idea was that Mbappé would team up with Brazil’s Neymar and help the club win its first Champions League crown. It almost worked: in 2020, Mbappé & Co. lost to Germany’s Bayern Munich in the final.
Perez saw an opening and tried to bring Mbappé to Madrid again after the Parisians got trounced by Manchester City in the semis the following year. But PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi thwarted those advances, insisting flatly that the player wasn’t for sale. “Mbappé is going to stay in Paris,” Al-Khelaifi said before turning down Real’s initial $175 million offer, then two improved ones. “He will never leave.”
That wasn’t PSG’s call alone, though. Mbappé’s contract had just a year to run, meaning he could sign with any other club as a free agent as soon as early 2022. With no roadblocks and no fee to pay, surely Real Madrid would get their man this time. With the prospect of losing perhaps the world’s best player for nothing looming, PSG — which had been eliminated by Real in the Champions League round of 16 a few months earlier, shocked the soccer world by announcing that Mbappé had instead inked a three-year extension.
Real was as stunned as anyone. But the club had just claimed its fifth Champions League title in eight seasons, softening the blow. In any case, the Mbappé matter seemed settled at least until 2025.
Then things changed again last year. That three-year pact, it turned out, was really a two-year agreement with an option for one more: Mbappé’s. After another way-too-early Champions League ouster and a falling out with PSG over image rights, Mbappé opted to decline it. That set in motion the sequence of events that led to Saturday’s blockbuster news.
However it went down, Mbappé has the opportunity to be an all-time great Galactico. He could’ve stayed at the Parc des Princes if money was his main motivation. But Mbappé wants to win. and Real Madrid does that like no other.
It’s been almost six years since a teenage Mbappé hoisted the World Cup. Losing the 2022 final — during which he scored a hat trick — was the lowest moment of his career. Besides another world championship for Les Bleus, the Champions League is the prize he covets most. It’s become clear that PSG, which lost Neymar and Lionel Messi last summer and barely survived the competition’s group stage this fall, isn’t quite good enough to consistently stand to-to-toe with Europe’s very best.
Meantime, Real is always one of the last teams standing. He’ll fills a need at Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, as Perez and coach Carlo Ancelotti hadn’t sufficiently replaced former starting striker Karim Benzema, who left for Saudia Arabia last year. Mbappé will be supported by another budding superstar, English midfielder Jude Bellingham, behind him.
Individual honors are also more achievable now. Mbappé seems poised to become an annual Ballon d’Or contender at Real; despite all his accolades in Ligue 1, he’s finished in the Top 3 for an award presented annually to the sport’s best player — by a magazine from his home country, no less — just once.
Add it all up, and it was always a match made in soccer heaven. Of course, Kylian Mbappé wound up at Real Madrid eventually. The pair have always been perfect for each other, even if the timing never was before now.
Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.
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