PARIS (AP) — As the New Year begins, so does the countdown on Kylian Mbappé’s future.
It promises to be a nervous start to 2024 for Paris Saint-Germain and its fans with speculation set to intensify about their prolific striker, one of only two players in soccer history to score a hat trick in a World Cup final.
Mbappé began this season in a transfer standoff with his club after not taking up the option of a 12-month extension into 2025. It means that, starting Jan. 1, he can openly talk to other clubs or even sign a pre-contract agreement with long-time suitor Real Madrid or Premier League leader Liverpool.
Mbappé can do so because his contract runs out in June, when he can leave the defending French champion for free, having joined from Monaco —- initially on loan in 2017 — for 180 million euros (now $199 million).
The France star is PSG’s all-time leading scorer with 233 goals despite only recently turning 25, and has already netted some 46 goals for Les Bleus.
But it has been frustrating at times for Mbappé at PSG, which failed to reach the quarterfinals of the Champions League in the last two seasons and has scraped through to the last 16 in second place this season.
Despite having scored 21 goals in 22 games in all competitions so far this season, Mbappé failed to make his mark when PSG lost 4-1 at Newcastle and 2-1 at AC Milan.
His frustration has been seen in some of PSG’s league games over the past three seasons, when bad defending and a lack of teamwork has led to soft goals being conceded.
Mbappé has said he wants to win the Ballon d’Or — soccer’s most prestigious individual prize — and the Champions League. But whether he can win either with PSG remains to be seen and, at age 25, the time could be right for him to leave PSG as he enters his peak years.
Here’s a look at where Mbappé might go:
Will it be third time lucky for the Spanish powerhouse with a record 14 European Cup titles?
PSG rejected an offer of 180 million euros for Mbappé in 2021 and Madrid missed out a year later when Mbappé — amid frenzied speculation that Madrid would finally get him to join — signed a new deal with PSG in May 2022.
Mbappé held aloft the PSG jersey that day with 2025 on the back. But he was reportedly annoyed because the actual deal only took him to 2024 and, while good PR for the club, it was also seen as somewhat presumptuous to expect he would sign the extension given his world renown.
Mbappé has spoken about his affection for Madrid but, if he does not join this time, then the move may never happen. Coach Carlo Ancelotti has re-shaped the attack since Karim Benzema left and it is functioning well.
Jude Bellingham has made a stunning start to his career there since joining from Borussia Dortmund in a big-money deal, and the 20-year-old attacking midfielder has netted 17 goals in 21 games. Wearing his idol Zinedine Zidane’s No. 5 jersey, Bellingham pulls the strings brilliantly behind forwards Vinícius Júnior — who has signed a new long-term deal — and Rodrygo.
Neither are as prolific as Mbappé but the Brazilians are younger — Vinícius is 23 and Rodrygo is 22 — and it raises the question whether Madrid really needs Mbappé now the void left by Benzema, and Cristiano Ronaldo before him, has clearly been filled.
Mbappé’s English is near-fluent and he’s at ease conducting interviews after Champions League games with British broadcasters.
It would make his transition to the Premier League even easier, for his speed, strength on the ball, dribbling and lethal finishing are all attributes that would serve him well.
The six-time European champions are trying to hold onto prolific forward Mohamed Salah amid growing interest in the Egypt star from the even richer Saudi Arabian league.
Salah recently reached the 200-goal mark for Liverpool and enjoys hero-like status at Liverpool’s famed Anfield stadium, but he is 31 and his prime years could almost be over.
Mbappé is entering his prime and appears the ideal replacement.
With no transfer fee to pay, any club signing Mbappé for free would have to play massive wages.
Chelsea can do that, and the west London club is languishing in mid-table, desperately in need of a goalscorer of Mbappé’s caliber.
Whether Mbappé feels up to the challenge of rebuilding is doubtful, considering he could walk into any leading club.
Al-Hilal failed with a record $332 million bid for Mbappé last July and, given his ambitions to win the Ballon d’Or numerous times, even the lure of massive wages seems unlikely to tempt him.
Furthermore, Saudi Arabian soccer intends to be around for the long-term.
If so, it means there’s no pressure for Mbappé to go there now when he could easily do so in his 30s.
STAYING AT PSG
Mbappé previously said he wanted to see out his last season at PSG and then leave.
Should he stay, the club would need to strengthen its midfield and defense.
Should he go, there will still be a Mbappé playing at PSG — younger brother Ethan, who just turned 17.
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