Mbappé denies bossing PSG and says he is close to being the best in the world


Kylian Mbappé appears for the interview in a huge vehicle with tinted windows and accompanied by his mother, two PR representatives, two lawyers, a small documentary crew, a stylist and a friend, whose role is initially unclear. This is how one of the biggest stars of the world sport travels these days. Kylian Mbappé doesn’t just walk through the door. He arrives.

But not yet.

First comes a big security guard who politely asks – and this request is clearly not optional – to scan the spaces his client will be visiting, walk through the aisles where Mbappé will pass, check for the most direct escape routes “if I have to pull my guy out.” in a hurry”. The bouncer must have done the same thing a few nights ago at a Manhattan restaurant where Mbappé and his entourage were planning to have dinner, and will likely do the same later for a Nike event in Times Square.

Only when the security guard is satisfied does a cell phone appear and a call is made. Only then is the driver told to deliver Kylian Mbappé to The New York Times’ headquarters in Manhattan.

This summer, Mbappé, one of the most famous athletes in the world, has also become one of the most valuable. That’s when an extremely talented football star cashed in on a successful plan put in place before he was in his teens, the result of a tug of war between Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid. He signed a contract that is expected to earn him more than US$250 million (R$1.3 billion) over the next three years.

The deal gave Mbappé new power at his club, new resources to fund his burgeoning business empire, and new prominence in and out of the sport. At one point this summer, the fight for his signature got so intense that French President Emmanuel Macron stepped in to tip the balance in favor of PSG and the nation.

In the coming months, Mbappé’s profile is expected to grow even more. He is the centerpiece of his star-studded team in Paris, the first among equals that include Brazilian superstar Neymar and Argentine star Lionel Messi, as he seeks to end his so far fruitless efforts to win the Champions League.

In November, Mbappé will travel to Qatar, where the French national team will try to become the first since Pele’s Brazil to successfully defend the World Cup title.

But first he agreed to an interview. He has a lot to talk about.

The beginning

It was one of those timeless tasks that teachers give, a stimulus for students to pause and reflect on their future, to explore what they want to be. In May 2014, 15-year-old Kylian Mbappé and his colleagues at the academy of French football club Monaco were asked to design a magazine cover featuring an image of themselves.

An idea quickly formed in Mbappé’s mind. He would not imitate a version of Paris Match, GQ or French Vogue, as some of his friends had done, but Time magazine. As the central focus of the cover, Mbappé chose an image of him, sitting with his head tilted slightly to the side and his hands clasped under his chin. The headline, bold in white font, declared him “El maestro” – the master. Smaller headlines, in the upper corners and in capital letters, labeled him the best young player in the world, a priority for the French national team coach, the future of football.

Like a child’s flight of fancy, the mock magazine cover couldn’t have been more prescient. Four years after submitting the assignment, Mbappé appeared on the cover of Time. These headlines also proved prophetic. At 19, Mbappé had already led France to the World Cup title, becoming the first teenager since Pele to score in the final. He was widely regarded as the best young player in the world, and in almost everyone’s estimation, he represented the future.

“Crazy,” said Mbappé, 23, when he was shown the cover image of the magazine at the start of an interview in July. It’s a word he often uses to describe his life path. “Because, you know, when you’re 15, you have ambition,” he said. “Every child has ambition. But when it comes true after just a few years, it’s crazy.”

Yet even in that environment, Mbappé was always a little different from the other aspirants in his classes, his teachers said: smart and poised, endowed with a confidence and maturity that made him stand out. “To us,” said one teacher after seeing Mbappé interviewed on video for another school project at age 16, “it felt like he had been doing this for ten years.”

the rise

Long before he turned pro, Mbappé was regarded with admiration far beyond his Paris suburb. At age 14, he was invited by Real Madrid, the team of his childhood heroes, to join the club for a week of training in Spain. Barred from signing such a young foreign player, the club even rolled out a red carpet that included meetings with first-team stars and trips to the training ground in a sports car driven by Real and French legend Zinedine Zidane.

The first major decision of his career – signing with Monaco, a team with a strong tradition of discovering and tracking talented young people – turned out to be a masterstroke. Mbappé made his debut for the club at age 16, played a key role in their unlikely campaign to the Champions League semi-finals two years later, and then joined PSG for the second-highest price ever paid for a footballer.

Everything he wanted seemed to be there for the taking. “To be honest, as a young guy, I’ve never had limits on my ambition, because I always say you don’t have to put a limit on yourself.”

That ambition, backed by World Cup credibility and the options inherent in the $250 million contract he received from PSG to stay this summer, now extends to building his significant business and philanthropic endeavors.

Mbappé has also been increasingly vocal about efforts – or lack thereof – to combat racism in football, so much so that he publicly criticized the president of the French football federation on racial grounds and at one point in the interview set aside his own interests. agents to engage in the topic. Reviews of his game, Mbappé said, are good. What often accompanies them is not. “You have to talk about it, we have to end it,” he said of football’s persistent inability to eradicate racism. “I’m ready. I’m ready to help.”

The young man hopes not to follow the model of “the guy who kicks the ball and ends his career, goes to the yacht and takes his money”. “No, I want to be more than that. And sometimes people might think it’s too much, that I have to play football. But I don’t think so. I think the world has changed.”

The choice

Whatever he does off the field, Mbappé’s position will continue to be defined by his feats in football: how he plays and, perhaps just as importantly, where he plays.

For months this year, it seemed to everyone, including Mbappé, that he would leave Paris for Real Madrid, a club he’s been drawn to since his first visit as a boy. He had told PSG this last summer when he ended talks about a new contract, and even EA Sports had planned to leave him this summer; prepared the latest version of its FIFA video game –record sales– with Mbappé dressed in the colors of Real Madrid.

PSG, however, funded by the Qatari government, prepared for the fight. Management had turned down an offer from Madrid of up to €200m for Mbappé last year, even though they knew he could walk away for nothing as a free agent this summer.

In June, with the expiration of Mbappé’s contract with PSG, Real Madrid returned again, putting together the biggest contract package in its history. But PSG hit back one last time, at one point asking President Macron for help. The vision he presented to Mbappé was to be the standard-bearer of his country, at least for a few more years – a chance to be a hero of France and PSG at the same time.

Macron’s direct intervention in a footballer’s career planning is perhaps only precedent. In 1961, with all of Europe’s biggest teams circling around, the Brazilian government passed a law that designated Pelé a “national treasure”, a cultural asset of such importance that he could not be transferred outside the country. While Macron did not go as far in his efforts to keep Mbappé in France, his words weighed heavily on the striker’s decision to stay.

“I never thought I would talk to the president about my future, about the future of my career, so it’s crazy, really crazy. He said to me, ‘I want you to stay. I don’t want you to leave now. important for the country’.”

As he works without an agent, Mbappé said that every major — and often minor — decision he makes follows deep conversations with the only two advisers whose opinions really matter: his parents. His mother, who sat in an adjacent room while Mbappé was interviewed in the presence of a publicist and a lawyer, was a central figure in negotiations with Real Madrid and PSG last year. She declined to answer questions for this article, but her influence is clear.

“We sit around the table and talk about everything,” said Mbappé, who includes her lawyer, Delphine Verheyden, as another vital part of her decision-making mechanism. But in the end it is Mbappé who takes charge.

Some of the headlines that followed his decision to stay at PSG said Qatar’s money proved to be too much to resist – his gloves of around $125 million were the biggest single payout for an out-of-contract player. in football history – but he insisted that the large sums on offer were not what guided his choice. “Because wherever I go I’m going to get money. I’m that kind of player everywhere I go.”

Still, Mbappé’s status at PSG and his investment in him now give him a leadership role that gives him primacy even among stars like Neymar and Messi. Fans and the media are already on the lookout for any hint of ego: frustration at not receiving a pass, a dispute with Neymar over who would take the penalty.

Mbappé said it was “irritating” to read accusations that he demanded an opinion on who would coach him and even who his teammates would be as a condition of re-signing.

“That’s not my job,” he said. “And I don’t want to do that because I’m not good at it. I’m good on the field. And off the field that’s not my role. There are so many people who are better than me.”

For now, he said he was focused on consolidating his position as a national icon in France. He wants to win another World Cup. He wants to finally lift the Champions League trophy with PSG. And he wants to be named the best player in the world.

“I think I’m about to win,” Mbappé said of the player of the year trophy. He makes his statement in a tone of fait accompli, presenting it as a logical extension of his trajectory.

I always say I dream about everything. I have no limits. So, of course, as you say, it’s a new generation. And Ronaldo, Messi – you will stop. We have to find someone else, someone new

different life

“The only thing I regret a little is growing up into a man too fast,” says Mbappé, as nearly a dozen people wait for him to finish his latest work commitment.

Despite all the descriptions of himself as “a regular guy” who does “normal stuff,” his life – slated for stardom before he turns 14, a full-fledged professional at 16, a national treasure at 23 – is anything but normal.

“It’s the life I’ve always wanted,” he said of the traveling caravans, the empty restaurants, the bodyguards at his side. “It’s a different life. But like I said, I’m happy. And I’m grateful.”

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