When Kylian Mbappe lines up for Paris St-Germain (PSG) on Tuesday against Real Madrid, the club he will almost certainly join when his contract expires this summer.
While nothing has been confirmed, it would be a major shock if the France striker does not end up in the white shirt he has dreamed of wearing since he was a kid.
The 23-year-old will not say anything for now – at least not until PSG’s Champions League last-16 meeting with the Spanish league leaders is over. By that time, he will hope to have given Real Madrid a first-hand view of exactly what they will be getting.
Mbappe, the boy from Bondy in the suburbs of Paris, always wanted to play for PSG, but it is also true that he was probably always destined for Real Madrid, even though it has taken a while to get to this point.
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Mbappe was wanted by Europe’s elite clubs in 2017 after starring for Monaco. He chose PSG – initially joining on loan in a deal that would ultimately cost the French champions £165.7m – because it was the club of his city, the one supported by most of his friends, the most important club in France at the time.
But it was only ever likely to be a stop in his career. Mbappe admired Cristiano Ronaldo and grew up watching his role model starring for Real. It helps that Mbappe is that rare breed of player who, like the Portuguese, can cope with the intense pressure that comes with being the star name for one of the world’s great clubs.
At 19, having just scored in the final as France won the 2018 World Cup, Mbappe gave an interview in which his mentality became clear. “This is just the start,” he said. “I am here to make history.”
If he carries on with his current form it is difficult to see how he won’t make a huge impact as the main man at the Bernabeu.
Other players have tried and failed to take on the mantle from Ronaldo, who left in 2018 after winning four Champions Leagues in nine years in the Spanish capital. Eden Hazard, whom many thought was destined to do just that, was never strong enough to be anything more than just a fine player on that stage. The extra pressure demanded of superstars not just on the pitch but also as leaders off it can take its toll.
But Mbappe is different. The pursuit of excellence determines that being good will never be enough for him. What he craves – and what Real can potentially give him – is the opportunity to show he is the best of the best.
Like so many of the best young players today, Mbappe has surrounded himself with family members who conduct much of his business. Team Mbappe is a family organisation, although, unlike some others, all the important decisions are made by Kylian himself.
His parents, Wilfried Mbappe and Fayza Lamari, separated several months ago but are both nonetheless employed in running various aspects of his life. Fayza dedicates her days to looking after her son and prefers to maintain some anonymity. It was his dad who accompanied Kylian to the recent Ballon d’Or awards in Paris.
There, I saw a young man unable to contain his smile when being photographed and sharing space with PSG team-mate Lionel Messi and Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski. He felt, with good reason, he belonged there. As his mother tells him: “We come from Bondy and if you don’t have confidence in yourself, who is going to have it in your place? There is no glass ceiling.”
According to his mother, speaking recently in a rare interview with Le Parisien newspaper, last summer her son decided to move to Real to “realise his dream and create history. Kylian wants to be at the centre of a sports project. He needs constant challenges.”
But PSG refused to let him go. Mbappe himself felt he was at a crossroads and was uncertain what to do. His father sided with him staying, while his mother thought maybe it was time to leave. They discussed it together and in the end, the easiest solution was to stay until his contract expires this summer. As always, it was Mbappe who had the last word.
The nature of the sporting project, rather than the size of the pay packet, has always been his main motivating factor. He has never been a big spender and has an interesting relationship with money – he never has a credit card or cash on him. Sometimes his mum asks him to take 200 euros with him, to which he replies: “No need, I’m just going to play football.”
Mbappe alternates his life between his father and his mother and has a real need to be close to them, but he also has his apartment, so has grown up significantly in recent years.
Mum takes care of the legal side of things, of his image, of communication and PR, and any other big projects away from football that he wishes to put in place (some related to helping his home town of Bondy develop). Dad takes care of all things football – talking to agents, to PSG director of football Leonardo, to other presidents. Florentino Perez, Real Madrid’s top man, has got Mbappe’s father’s phone number.
The importance of family was there for all to see on the day he joined PSG in 2017. All of them were there, including his 15-year-old brother Ethan. They arrived together and were sat in the front row and exchanged smiles and looks with Kylian. Wilfried, with a smart dark suit, had the aura of an important person and spoke with the club’s chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi. Fayza kept a discreet place in the proceedings.
Football runs in the family and on 25 June 2021 Ethan signed an “aspiring” contract with PSG in a deal lasting until 2024. Asked if Kylian’s career impacts that of his little brother, their mother replied: “Of course. For Ethan, the name is already taken. It is impossible to avoid being the brother of Kylian Mbappe.”
Soon, though, Ethan is likely to be the only Mbappe on PSG’s books.