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Mbappé will also have his The Decision

The Paris Saint-Germain star has brought player empowerment to football

Mbappé will also have his The Decision The Paris Saint-Germain star has brought player empowerment to football

It was quite an eventful weekend for French national team captain Kylian Mbappé and his Paris Saint-Germain team. The side from the capital played their final game of the season in front of their own crowd against Toulouse on Sunday: a 3-1 defeat that matured despite Mbappé himself signing the lead in the eighth minute, but completely painless for a team that was already mathematically assured of the title. Instead, what filled the headlines was and is the outline of the game that was Mbappé's last at the Parc des Princes. This is how the PSG star himself portrayed it in a video posted on his social channels, in which he finally announced his departure from the Parisian club at the end of the season. “I wanted to speak to everyone, I've always said that I will speak when the time is right,” she explained. “This is my last year here: I will not renew my contract, I will end my experience at PSG in a few weeks.”

Mbappé's video announcement

The decision came as “no surprise to anyone at the club", as Luis Enrique confirmed on Sunday, and was also no shock to the public, who have long been counting down the days until the Frenchman's move to Real Madrid after years of negotiations and rumours. It is no secret that his next home will be the Santiago Bernabeu, although Mbappé made no direct reference to this in the video, responding to journalists' questions by saying that “everything has its time and the time to announce the next club will come later” (in a few weeks and no more, according to Fabrizio Romano). “There are so many emotions,” Mbappé continued, “after years of having the chance and honour to be part of the biggest club in France, which has allowed me to get to where I am now and grow alongside great champions. Now, after seven seasons, I need a new challenge.” But not before his final stint at PSG: “We have to lift the last trophy", alluding to the French Cup final that awaits him at the end of the month.

With my assets and weaknesses, knowing that I am not very expansive and perhaps have not shown all my gratitude for the affection I have received over these years,” Mbappé then thanked each and every member of the club, present and past: "in addition to his team-mates, also to Emery, Tuchel, Pochettino, Galtier and Luis Enrique” (the coaches of those years), “Leonardo and Luis Campos” (the sporting directors) and “everyone who works here, even those you don't see.” In short, with the exception of Paris Saint-Germain's number one, president Nasser Al Khelaifi. A glaring omission, which of course cannot have been unintentional in this context; especially when you consider that the relationship between the two has been fractured for several years - there was the first friction with Real Madrid in the background in 2022 - and, according to the French newspaper Le Parisien, has been completely broken off for at least four months.

The decision not to mention the Qatari owner did not go unnoticed by the media - Madrid daily Marca, for example, pointed it out almost in real time - or by Al Khelaifi himself, who reportedly had a heated confrontation with Mbappé before Sunday's game, again according to Le Parisien. “The walls were shaking,” reported a PSG member who claimed to have witnessed the scene. The discussion was not only about the video from the previous day, but also about economic issues in connection with the bonuses from Kylian's contract, who will leave the club for nothing after his purchase for €155 million in 2018. A farewell that, as so often in such cases, has led to division both inside and outside the club, as the contrast on Sunday at the Parc des Princes between the organised fans, who dedicated a beautiful choreography to him during the warm-up, and the rest of the stadium, from which more than a few boos came instead, shows well.

In short, there's a lot of politics in the video posted by Mbappé, even if French President Emmanuel Macron had nothing to do with it this time (apart from a timely request to see the player on the pitch at the next Olympics). The French captain's choice is not only a personal revenge on Al Khelaifi or an implicit confirmation that Real Madrid is still a dream destination for Europe's top players even in the face of strong Saudi competition (Al-Hilal offered almost 300 million to convince him last summer), but also a testament to player empowerment and perhaps the beginning of a new era in the world of football. Not only because of the decision itself, but also because of the way it has matured over time and the way it has been communicated by the player.

LeBron James' The Decision

In some ways, it felt like stepping back in time to fourteen years ago, to July 2010, when NBA basketball star LeBron James made a similar announcement to Mbappé on the other side of the ocean. Different contexts, content and platforms are of course inevitable due to the time gap between the two moments: LeBron, along with ESPN, had wrapped a nearly hour-and-a-half television broadcast, “The Decision,” memorable for James' tastefully questionable shirt and, more importantly, the long-awaited announcement that he was “taking his talents to South Beach,” i.e., the Miami Heat; Mbappé, on the other hand, opted for a concise and unspectacular mode alongside plainer clothes and tones, with no presenters or TV wait times, where the setting is his home and not the Boys and Girls Club (Greenwich, Connecticut) chosen by James in 2010. There is, however, an important point of contact between two events of revolutionary consequence in their respective settings, namely the appropriation of control over his own destiny, his career and even the narrative about him.

The Decision” had represented a disruption in the flow of information, rumour and officialdom in the NBA market that had traditionally been in the hands of insiders like Adrian Wojnarowski (hence the infamous “Woj bombs”) rather than those directly involved. On this occasion, it was LeBron himself who revealed his fate to some 13 million Americans tuning in to ESPN. His decision was a culmination of the player empowerment process that James has championed. The tendency to sign short contracts and always come out on top should become the standard and prevail in the world of the NBA and beyond. “LeBron James has shown how to take control of your own destiny, encouraging many athletes to think outside the box,” Anita Elberse, a Harvard professor specialising in sports business, said at the time. Among those who seem to have taken up the baton is Kylian Mbappé himself: short contract extensions (such as the two-year deal in 2022) with options for a further contract extension, as much control as possible over the narrative (hence the accusations against PSG of “talking too much to the press”) and, above all, the move as a “free agent",” i.e. as a free agent, without a contract basis.

While free agency is a fundamental institution of the market in the American leagues, the signing of “zero parameters” - as players acquired by free agents are called - is an increasingly common dynamic in European football, but one that is still not fully clarified by customs. Especially when it comes to players of great value who are still young or at least far from the end of their careers. Cases like those of Donnarumma and Calhanoglu, to give two examples close to home, have been experienced and recounted as something extraordinary, but they seem destined to soon fall back into the ordinary. The Mbappé case confirms and reinforces this trend, with which the European public will soon become familiar. After all, it is advantageous for many reasons to choose the club you want to move to as a free player, and it is not for nothing that this practise is encouraged by prosecutors and intermediaries (and not just for personal gain); it allows the club in possession of the brand to stay out of the discourse, widen the choice of possible targets and, above all, maximise financial gain. All of this is to the detriment of the previous club and to the advantage of the new club, with all the obvious advantages in terms of squad composition and therefore competition that this entails.

In short, Mbappé has announced to PSG, France and the whole world that he is at the start of a new adventure. He has not named Real Madrid for the time being, but it is only a matter of time before the deal becomes public knowledge. With his decisions in recent years and the video of the last few days, the Bleu captain has signalled the transition of football into a new era. And if the best player in the world leads by example, as LeBron James did in his day, it's easy to imagine that there will be many who “think outside the conventional box” in the coming years