It’s the short clip of Neymar being asked ‘What’s Mbappe like? which reveals most about the reality of working life with the footballer who never seems satisfied, even now he’s been crowned the little emperor of Paris.
The Brazilian is a picture of contentment as he passes through the player-media mixed zone in Le Havre, after playing in his country’s friendly win over Ghana last month. But when he’s asked about his PSG team-mate the smile suddenly drops. He initially feigns not to hear. ‘What? Kylian?’ he asks when his inquisitors persist. He laughs and leaves.
Mbappe is the epitome of how football has utterly lost its grasp on reality. When his flirtation with Real Madrid had entered the realms of the surreal last year, with his publication of a comic book Je M’Appelle Kylian in which he is visited in a dream by Cristiano Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane, does keepie-uppies with them and receives a freshly laundered white Madrid kit from Zidane, it took the intervention of President Emmanuel Macron to help keep him in Paris.
“I never imagined to talk with this guy about my new contract,” he said, without the remotest awareness of his own preposterous hyperbole. “It’s amazing to talk to the president. To tell these important people. I would have left France as a great player but there is a sentimental part.”
And a financial part, too. The small matter of £100 million ($110 million) a year plus £20 million ($22 million) in endorsements.
Yet now, five months later, we find this is not enough. Despite an about-turn, which left Real Madrid apoplectic, news arrives via Marca in Madrid and L’Equipe in Paris that he wants to leave PSG as soon as possible and regrets that unimaginably lucrative contract extension.
It’s actually been coming. Mbappe was visibly irritated after PSG’s first game of the season, when Neymar refused to let him take a second penalty kick after he’d missed a first in a 5-2 win over Montpellier. The withering look Neymar gives him on the clip of their exchange, crouched at the penalty spot where the Brazilian is placing the ball, also says everything.
There was a spiteful little dig at his manager’s use of a midfield pivot in a 0-0 draw against Reims on Saturday. (#pivotgang, Mbappe posted.) He wanted better summer signings, wants to play on the wings and wants a freer reign.
The inconvenient truth is that no-one at PSG seems able to abide him. Neymar and Lionel Messi certainly don’t seem to. Messi and Sergio Ramos have been brought closer together by a mutual suspicion of him. His only close ally in the squad now seems to be Achraf Hakimi, the Spanish-born Moroccan full-back.
One source says: “We hear the club some complaints within the club about his ego, (him) increasingly feeling that he is around looking for everything to be his way. Even some people last summer were expressing privately they were happy if he went to Madrid as things in the club would be easier.’
Mbappe’s relationship with Mauricio Pochettino was actually quite good. Pochettino saw an intelligence in him, liked to talk about the Premier League and La Liga with him, felt that he craved love and attention and was willing to offer that. That was – is – Pochettino’s way with young players. His successor, Christophe Galtier, does not seem to have that same capacity to handle the big ego.
That ego is out of control, now. Mbappe’s petulant self-absorption is the product of PSG’s Qatari owners and chairman Nasser Al Khalifa giving him the money, the power and “the keys to their project,” as L’Equipe’s Lionel Dangoumau put it on Tuesday.
PSG won’t allow him to leave this winter and it’s questionable whether Madrid will want him and his £300 million ($333 million) price tag anyway, having been so royally played once before. But since Mbappe controls the optional third year of his contract, the question of a sale will arise next summer if PSG are to ensure that he does not depart on a free transfer.
Liverpool, whether they like it or not, may be dragged into this narrative. In May, Mbappe displayed more evidence of his deft line in flirtation by revealing that they are his mother Fayza’s favourite club and that he’d talked to them five years ago. “It’s a good club. It’s a big club.”
They shouldn’t touch him. It would be lunacy for any club to go anywhere near this bleating, self-absorbed individual who has grown so accustomed to power and to a football world where player is brand. Any manager who is tempted risks a desperate kind of subservience in the ensuing working relationship.
Thierry Henry asked of Mbappe, in a TV studio on Tuesday night: “Did they make him feel that the club was the most important thing or did they make him feel that he was more important than the club?” The question was purely rhetorical, but pertinent in professional sport.