Monaco Struggle to Hold on to Kylian Mbappe Amid Star Exodus

Andy Brassell@@andybrassellFeatured ColumnistJuly 5, 2017

Monaco hope to keep Kylian Mbappe for a further year, but his stay at the club is far from sealed.
Monaco hope to keep Kylian Mbappe for a further year, but his stay at the club is far from sealed.Associated Press

After the party, the morning clear-up has begun fairly swiftly. AS Monaco's 2016-17 season was a dazzling one, with snatching the title from Paris Saint-Germain, reaching a cup final and the last four of the Champions League all done in some style.

The numbers posted by manager Leonardo Jardim's side bear viewing and reviewing, with 159 goals scored in all competitions (107 of those in the 38-game league campaign alone).

Part of what made their achievements so beautiful, though, was the sense that this was a transient moment. As they closed on the title, Monaco did so with the knowledge that this was now or never.

The club's vice-president, Vadim Vasilyevresponsible for the day-to-day running of the operationmight have told L'Equipe in late April that there was "no need to sell players," but bold statements at the height of revelry on the dancefloor don't always translate to lasting commitments in the cold light of day.

There was always an understanding that a few of Monaco's stars would move on this summer, and that was fine. It was the new model of the club to grow young talents and sell them on, though majority owner Dmitry Rybolovlev had given Jardim room to make everyone's dreams come true by allowing him to keep his group together last summer.

This window is different, with Bernardo Silva already sold to Manchester City and more expected to follow, probably starting with Tiemoue Bakayoko going to Chelsea. The big prize for Jardim and Vasilyev was always elsewhere, though. Whatever happened going into this window, they wanted to hold on to Kylian Mbappe.

It was always, however, going to be one of the most difficult transfer plotlines to call this summer.

Common sense always said Mbappe should stay for one more year. The ease with which the 18-year-old has adapted to the elite level of the European game—underlined by the 23 goals he notched in 26 starts in all competitions last season—makes it easy to gloss over a couple of basic, but important, facts.

Before last season, Mbappe had started just twice in Ligue 1. He wasn't a regular before Christmas in 2016-17 either, much to the displeasure of his father, Wilfried, per So Foot. It wasn't until the tie at Manchester City that he made his first start in the Champions League (and what a debut it was).

With the World Cup on the horizon in a yearin which Mbappe will surely be a leading attractionthe stability of staying in the Principality for another season, which would be played entirely as an undisputed starter, made sense for his development and for his hopes at international level with France.  

Mbappe worked well with Radamel Falcao, but he will be without Bernardo Silva (left) next season.
Mbappe worked well with Radamel Falcao, but he will be without Bernardo Silva (left) next season.Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

The logic of the modern transfer market perhaps suggested something different. Saying that putting off a move for a year made sense, but how steadfast could cluband playerbe once a big offer was on the table?

Mbappe's outstanding potential had already been plain to see and once the reality started to roll out, it was even better than expected, with all the natural brilliance of a LeBron James. His ascension to megastardom is inevitable.

With City having had a €40 million bid rejected towards the end of the summer window in 2016 (per L'Equipe), before Mbappe really caught fire, it was always clear just what sort of cash it would take to shift him.

If, or when, he goeswhether it be this year or nextthe €105 million world-record transfer fee set by Paul Pogba's move to Manchester United will be comfortably surpassed. It is understood that the offers received by Monaco this time around, from suitors including Real Madrid (per AS), have already trumped that figure.

The Santiago Bernabeu giants have always had a key role in this story as Mbappe's dream club, with the presence of Zinedine Zidane—not just a France icon but, as a coach, a keen promoter of youth—a further advantage to the Spanish champions in a congested chase.

Real have always been Mbappe's dream, as we are reminded every time we see the photos of him in his not-so-distant youth in his bedroom at the family home, surrounded by posters of Cristiano Ronaldo in the famous white kit.

Yet it seemed that the dream and the sensible solution were not mutually exclusive. Mbappe and Real were both open to the possibility of him staying at Monaco for a further year before making the move to the Spanish capital in 2018, per Marca.

Le Parisien was one of a number of outlets that recently reported the teenager was even discussing a contract extension with the French champions, with a big wage rise augmented by the promise of an exit next summer.

There's just one factor that hasn't been thrown in the mix yet: Mbappe's naked ambition. This column can recount firsthand what an approachable and grounded young man he is, but equally his desire to continue to the summit of the game is unhidden. He wants to compete for and win everything, domestically and continentally. Whether Monaco will still be in a position to do that in the coming season has to be open to question.

Bernardo was always likely to go, and Bakayoko too, with replacements sorted out in the shape of Youri Tielemans and a player already at the club last season, the Brazilian Gabriel Boschilia—but how Vasilyev responds to the inevitable interest in some of last season's other high achievers could be the deciding factor in whether Mbappe stays or goes.

Benjamin Mendy, the team's outstanding left-back and an important element of their attack, looks like he could follow Bernardo to City, particularly after Monaco signed left-sided defender Terence Kongolo from Feyenoord this week, per the Telegraph. According to Nice-Matin (via RMC Sport), midfield anchor Fabinho has even agreed terms with PSG, though Monaco have rejected their domestic rivals' €45 million offer.

It seems as though Paris, in the manner of Bayern Munich or Juventus in their own domestic leagues, are leaning towards wresting back control of Ligue 1 in the most direct way possible by removing some of their rivals' most important assets—and Mbappe is on that list, too.

Benjamin Mendy, Fabinho and Tiemoue Bakayako could be on the way out at the French champions.
Benjamin Mendy, Fabinho and Tiemoue Bakayako could be on the way out at the French champions.VALERY HACHE/Getty Images

Tuesday's L'Equipe reported the player had met PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi and the club's new sporting director, Antero Henrique. The idea of Mbappe making a homecoming of sorts, having grown up on the outskirts of the capital, had pointedly been floated by coach Unai Emery at the Bilbao International Football Summit last month, per ESPN FC.

It's hard to understate just how big this would be for PSG. The balance of power in France's return to its previous position would be clear, but it would mean so much more.

Since its 2011 arrival, the Qatari ownership has brought in some great players but has largely struggled to attract elite-level stars. This would break the mould.

Mbappe is the face of today and tomorrow, and that he is a native of the City of Lights would only add further resonance to such a move. That he would get to reprise the free forward role he thrives in at Monaco around a fixed No. 9—substitute Edinson Cavani for Radamel Falcao—will be in the mind of a player who analyses the game forensically.

Monaco have already tied Falcao to a new deal, which is one step towards keeping Mbappe happy. Yet the club are at a crossroads as they bid to hang on to their young star for an extra season, and whether they are able to will come down to their management of the current squad at large.

The French footballing public, who want to soak up every moment of Mbappe being in their backyard, will have their fingers crossed along with Les Monegasques.


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