Saudi club Al Hilal have submitted a world record bid for PSG forward Kylian Mbappe (PA Archive)
As eye-watering as the Al Hilal offer to Paris Saint-Germain for Kylian Mbappe may be, it is itself not a blind bid. The Saudi Pro League club have for weeks been sounding out what it would actually take to bring him over. The Al Hilal president Fahad bin Nafel has been talking about the star to anyone who will listen – including in negotiations for other targets.
The Mbappe camp have let a few conditions be known, but they are still considering everything. The 24-year-old himself is said to still be almost single-minded about joining Real Madrid next summer and countenancing nothing else, but there may be a few complications before then.
That is the case with the entire transfer market right now, and this is finally a situation that brings the two major factors driving – or, really, halting – it together.
One is Saudi Arabian money, which has caused everyone to rethink their plans. The other is the striker market, which currently has a lot of interlinked interests.
The feeling is that one big deal will release everything, but the two biggest are log-jammed. It only adds to the intrigue that they are log-jammed for totally opposite reasons. Tottenham Hotspur do not want to sell Harry Kane. PSG are now desperate to sell Mbappe.
The potential chain reaction, according to those working on many of the deals, goes like this. If PSG do sell Mbappe, they will go even bigger for Kane.
“Whatever they were going to offer the player before, they’d double it,” in the words of one involved figure. Such a bid would almost certainly meet the £100m valuation that Daniel Levy is understood to see as a minimum to even consider a sale, but would also force a response from Bayern Munich. The German club are extremely confident they can get the player and that he wants to come, although one source quipped that “they have no experience of dealing with Daniel”. While PSG are among the few parties that believe the Qatari project can themselves get a deal for Kane done, the general feeling is he will not go there and has little interest, but that he would instead see Manchester United as a first priority.
They are currently negotiating for Atalanta’s Rasmus Hojlund and pressing on with that. If it did come to a situation where Spurs were willing to sell Kane and openly negotiating with rival clubs, however, United would have to consider acting. It is even believed that the Old Trafford hierarchy would be prepared to set aside separate funds for the England international, such is the value of the signing.
Kylian Mbappe in PSG training this summer (AP)
The thinking within the market, meanwhile, is that nothing else happens until the Kane decision is made.
After that, if PSG do not get him, they will press ahead for Randal Kolo Muani or Dusan Vlahovic. If Vlahovic goes, Juventus will finally make a concrete move for Romelu Lukaku, who himself has an offer from Al Hilal.
Which brings us full circle. There may now be another layer with Mbappe. PSG have been sounding out most of Europe’s major clubs, with the response so far mixed.
Manchester United are currently not interested this summer, and do not expect that to change. Barcelona and Chelsea have at least explored the possibility. The latter might appeal to Mbappe, especially due to a good relationship with Mauricio Pochettino, but it is understood that his first preference in the Premier League would actually be Arsenal. That is down to reasons like the romance of Thierry Henry’s history there, as well as the idea of making history himself and delivering a first title in 20 years.
As one figure close to the player’s camp said amid the flurry of activity on Friday, “if ever there was a window for that, it’s now”. Mikel Arteta is another who doesn’t have that kind of budget, though, as he now needs to make sales to bring in another midfielder and potentially a right-back.
It is one of the ironies of Mbappe’s situation, and another sign of the direction the game is headed.
The 24-year-old is so good, and his horizons as a footballer so vast, that he actually has very limited options. There are only about three or four clubs that could afford him. Lionel Messi found the same in 2021 and this summer.
Long gone are the days when an upwardly mobile side in Serie A or La Liga might offer an exciting possibility, as was the case with even Ronaldo before the turn of the millennium.
Harry Kane’s future remains unresolved going into the final year of his contract (EPA)
As it is, most major clubs are reluctant to move for other reasons beyond the budget. They think Mbappe only wants the traditional kingpins of European football: Real Madrid.
Both the Spanish club and the player are currently willing to hold their nerve. That has increased pressure on PSG but numerous sources insist there is even more to it than just seeing such an asset go for free next summer, and to a club they have an increasingly tense relationship with.
There is constant talk of a “loyalty bonus”, with Mbappe set to earn £35m if he is still at Parc des Princes on 31 July. This would of course bring further Financial Fair Play costs for PSG, and that for a player of immense value they will get no money for anyway.
Spurs may similarly see their megastar walk away for nothing and have so far come at it from the opposite perspective, although there are murmurs that is changing. Monday brought reports that club owner Joe Lewis has told Levy to sell if Kane will not sign a new deal. The industry view has long been this by far makes the most sense, especially as the club will have to adjust for a future without the striker sooner rather than later. A new tactical approach under Ange Postecoglou even offers something different.
Paris Saint-Germain’s French forward Kylian Mbappe will not sign a new deal in Paris (AFP via Getty Images)
For now, everyone is monitoring what everyone else does, without making a decisive move. That’s the nature of the market.
A further aspect is that there are almost as many political complications within the Saudi Pro League as there are with the two main summer sagas.
While Al Hilal are giddy at the prospect of signing Mbappe, that excitement is not shared within the wider division and not just for reasons of competition. Most of that is due to this idea that the player could do a year in the Saudi Pro League before decamping to the Bernabeu.
It is not as neat a compromise for everyone as is being claimed – before you even get to the idea of such a footballer playing in a developing division for a season.
One argument put forward is that for all the immediate focus Mbappe would bring, it could actually be damaging to the reputation of the competition if he were to just leave so quickly. The point of the wider project is to build for the long term and gradually create a luxurious but sustainable home for those outside the Premier League. The state does not want it to be somewhere where players are just parked.
Denmark striker Rasmus Hojlund is Man Utd’s preferred striker target (Getty Images)
An immediate departure for Madrid could also create a precedent where the higher-profile players arriving this summer could demand clauses allowing them to leave if Champions League clubs come in.
Most of all, though, an immediate Mbappe departure would leave a vacuum. The league would suddenly feel that bit more hollow again, with a move to Madrid instead confirming football’s supposed natural order.
The offer still stands, though. For now, it’s only adding to the stand-still in the wider market.