At PSG, Kylian Mbappe has to go


Only one player escaped the ire of the Parc des Princes. Paris Saint-Germain’s fans whistled and jeered every time Lionel Messi touched the ball. They howled and crowed at the sight of a wayward shot from Neymar. There was no allowance in their anger for reputation, no discrimination by status. It encompassed mortal and immortal alike. The lone exception, during last weekend’s routine win against Bordeaux, was Kylian Mbappe. There was no romance behind his pardon. He was not excused because he is a boy from the French capital’s banlieues, an identifiably Parisian superstar, a local kid made good. All of those terms — except perhaps superstar — apply to defender Presnel Kimpembe, too, but the fans deemed him as guilty as everyone else.

Nor was it related to performance.

Mbappe, almost alone, had emerged with credit from PSG’s elimination from the Champions League at the hands of Real Madrid. He had scored once and had seen two goals ruled out for offside.

He had gleamed under the bright lights of the Santiago Bernabeu. He had almost single-handedly carried Mauricio Pochettino’s team to the quarterfinals. His brilliance, though, has not stopped PSG’s ultras targeting him before.

It was, instead, a rather more cynical calculation that ensured Mbappe’s reprieve. The 23-year-old forward’s contract at PSG expires at the end of the season. Although it has long been assumed he would move to Madrid this summer, PSG has not yet given up hope of changing his mind. Reports have suggested that it might be willing to pay him as much as $28 million a year to stay.

PSG’s ultras, as a statement on their protests explained, might despair of the way their club is run. They might believe its executives are more concerned with releasing special-edition jerseys and gathering superstars to sell them than building a coherent team. They might abhor the way the team seems to re g ard Ligue 1 as little more than a training exercise.

But they are no fools.

They might, in fact, have a rather better idea of how to construct a squad than the people charged with running their club. They understand that Mbappe is the sort of generational talent that should be at the very center of PSG’s planning, rather than an afterthought to the apparently arbitrary acquisition of icons. They had no intention whatsoever of accelerating his departure.

It is likely, of course, to prove futile. If Mbappe could not be persuaded to sign a new contract before the past couple of weeks, nothing has happened since then to make the idea of extending his stay more appealing.

The defeat to Real Madrid was bad enough, but the sight and the sound of the P a r c d e s Princes in open mutiny against PSG’s Qatari backers may well have been worse.

The protest itself, of course, was nothing especially remarkable. There is an inherent tension scored into PSG’s very being: the schism between what the club is to its hierarchy and to its fans existed long before the arrival of Qatar Sports Investments.

Almost from the moment of its founding, PSG has played a dual role. To its owners and executives, it was always an expression of the city’s identity as they saw it. Haute couture designer Daniel Hechter was one of its early presidents.

To them, PSG was a fashion brand, an extension of the theater and the cinema and the discotheque.

For its fans, it was an expression of the city’s identity, too, but as they knew it. Drawn not so much from the exclusive arrondissements inside the peripherique but the sprawling suburbs beyond, they saw in PSG something far grittier, far weightier, far more reflective of their lives. That tension is now no longer unique — if it ever was — to PSG. Countless clubs across Europe are reckoning with the same rift, the sense of alienation that has settled on fans as their clubs have been taken over and turned into something they do not quite recognize.

It is, in many ways, the defining theme of modern football. The most egregious examples, of course, are the clubs that have been co-opted by forces that have only a tangential interest in sport: not just PSG, but Manchester City, Newcastle United and Chelsea. Venerable teams that have been appropriated by states and oligarchs and princelings for their own ends.

But it holds true elsewhere. It is the root of the sickness that has come to afflict Manchester United, another team playing the role of final landing spot for an idol resisting the dying of the light. The priorities of the Glazer family, the club’s owners, are effectively unrelated to the demands of the fans: performance on the field matters only so much as it affects performance off it. As long as the money keeps rolling, first and fourth in the Premier League look much the same.

Last weekend, as the bile rained down on the Parc des Princes, Mbappe alone was excused. Even in their rage, they know he deserves better. That silence will not make him stay. If anything, it proves that he has to leave.



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