The Future of Footballer Contracts: Mbappe and The Growing Power of Players
Despite the numerous finales and events that have taken place across the world of football, from the Champions League Final to pitch invasions, one of the biggest stories that emerged in the month of May was the news that Kylian Mbappe had chosen to stay at Paris Saint Germain(PSG) and had signed a three-year contract extension.
There have been dozens of reports and articles that presented various snippets of information regarding the Mbappe saga that has continued for years. In this blog I will be assessing the Kylian Mbappe contract saga as part of a wider evolution that is taking place in football. I will aim to explain this change, its impact upon the game and how it could become a part of modern football.
I was fortunate enough to meet Mbappe’s father at the 2018 world cup final and stood in close proximity to him as he watched through tears as his son lifted the greatest prize in football. At 19 years of age, Mbappe became one of the youngest world cup winners in the history of football as France triumphed in the 2018 tournament and was one of their top players. In 330 appearances for Monaco, Paris Saint Germain and his country, Mbappe has already amassed 221 goals and 124 assists and he is still only 23 years old. He seems a top favourite to be a future Ballon D’Or winner. Consequently, he is a player that is in the highest of demands. Any club around the world would love to have his services but very few can afford a young player with such talent.
Two of the richest club giants in the world, Real Madrid and Paris Saint Germain have always been the more realistic possibilities for Mbappe to commit his future to. He learned his trade in the youth academy of Monaco and developed into a prodigy of superstar potential which was recognised in 2018 when he was sold to PSG for £162million at just 19 years of age and he has played and thrived at the French powerhouse since. However, interest from Real Madrid is not a new phenomenon. Over a decade ago, when Mbappe was just 11 years old, he was approached and invited to join Los Blancos’ academy although this never materialised and he remained in Monaco.
Madrid’s enthusiasm and desire for Mbappe has never waivered. It reached a critical point last year in the 2021 summer transfer window when a significant bid was made. Mbappe is looked after and advised by his parents and his mother seemed to publicly imply that he was more than open to a move to Spain to join the iconic club. Their bid of €160million was swiftly rejected by PSG in a show of resilience against Madrid. PSG were determined to keep their star and during the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was difficult for Real Madrid to match the enormous sum required to prise Mbappe away from his home country and the dominant capital city club.
Real Madrid had demonstrated their focus on Mbappe by conducting business over the last few years in a manner that was aimed at accommodating for his transfer and wages. This became recognised as ‘The Mbappe Fund’. For example, they had sold players such as Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Sergio Reguilon and Martin Odegaard to accumulate in excess of £100million and their signings have been limited to no further than Austrian International, David Alaba from Bayern Munich. Real Madrid have been formulating a strategy in a post-Cristiano era and Kylian Mbappe was a priority, ahead even of Erling Haaland.
Another reason why Madrid may not have topped up their original offer of €160million is because Mbappe’s contract with PSG was set to expire in the summer of 2022. It was an attractive option to let the contract run its course and pursue his signature the following year when he became a free agent. This was made more desirable when Mbappe failed to commit his future to PSG despite being offered several lucrative contract renewals and also expressed his dream to represent Los Blancos in the future. Following an unusually unspectacular European Championship, coupled with the rumours of him leaving, Mbappe was booed at the start of the Ligue 1 2021-22 season by his own fans and people speculated that he also felt belittled by the introduction of Lionel Messi to the team as well as his other, preexisting star teammate in Neymar Jr.. It seemed as though everything indicated a likely exit in the 2022 summer transfer window and Mbappe would fulfil his desire to play for Real Madrid.
On the 21st May, 2022, Real Madrid’s chances of signing Mbappe this summer disappeared. Following their game against Metz in which he scored an appropriately well-timed hat-trick, Mbappe’s new three-year contract extension was announced in front of the home crowd. Details of the contract were reported over the following days:
● €100million signing on bonus
● Approximately €40million salary a year but this could go up to €1million per week based on performance bonuses
This makes Mbappe, quite clearly, the highest paid player in the world and completely overshadows his teammate Lionel Messi’s contract which is only worth a ‘measly’ €25million annually. It is a contract that echoes the style of mega-money deals that are agreed with a select number of ultimate superstars, icons and ‘brands’ in the NBA in the US.
The most significant discussion points around the new contract are the clauses that give Mbappe an unprecedented level of influence, control and power within one of Europe’s top clubs. It was reported that Madrid had offered a contract of similar financial remuneration and had even offered complete control of his own image rights. However, what potentially swayed Mbappe to stay at PSG, other than playing in his home country, may be the opportunity to have such an important role in the club. Mbappe’s new contract grants him a voice that has an influence and impact on many major aspects and strategic components of the club. He will give his opinions on transfer strategies, individual comings and goings of the players and the staff including the manager and the sporting director. Leonardo has just left his role as the sporting director of PSG and has been replaced by a good friend of Mbappe from Monaco in Luis Campos. His job is, at least partially, in the hands of the club’s star player. The contract therefore not only makes Kylian Mbappe the most financially rewarded player in history but also the most powerful and influential upon their club.
What Does This Mean for Football?
Could mega-money contracts that position players in a powerful role within a club be the future of football? As I mentioned, Mbappe’s contract extension displayed obvious similarities to the NBA-style contracts that can reach up to $1billion in value. However, it is a relatively new phenomenon in football although it could mark a significant moment in the evolution of the modern era of the beautiful game. There are also questions about whether it is problematic to allow for a player to have an influential role in matters that they may not have the knowledge, expertise or experience for, such as transfers and managerial appointments. Whilst these concessions were made by PSG in a desperate attempt to create an attractive and irresistible offer to persuade Mbappe to remain at the club, there must be important consideration given to such a matter and the impact it could have on football if it was to become the norm.
There has been an understanding of the concepts of ‘old money’ and ‘new money’ in football for a while. The introduction of billionaire businessmen such as Roman Abramovich was the beginning. This has continued with the likes of Sheikh Mansour and now state-owned football clubs. Paris Saint Germain is one of these, it is Qatari owned and overseen by the president, Nasser Al Khelaifi.
There was an immediate and damning response from Real Madrid following the announcement that Mbappe would not be moving to the Bernabeu this summer. The La Liga President, Javier Tebas, promptly labelled Paris Saint Germain and their business as ‘dangerous’ and an ‘insult’ to football. The Real Madrid President, Florentino Perez, reiterated Tebas’ sentiments and it was clear that Madrid and Spanish football were not impressed. It was a sporting and political loss for them. With Messi and Ronaldo no longer in La Liga and future starlets choosing Manchester City and PSG over Barcelona and Madrid, the reputation of La Liga as a home to the world’s biggest football names could be seen as diminishing. Politically, there was an element of a Spain versus France battle which led to French President, Jean-Michael Macron, personally ringing Mbappe and urging him to stay. Secondly and arguably more importantly, it indicates the rapidly growing stature, reputation and brand of the world’s richest state-owned clubs and PSG itself.
Real Madrid’s objections towards PSG’s business are likely grounded in a resentment that they were unable to sign Mbappe. However, there are other factors contributing to the dispute. For example, Madrid continue to voice support for the generation of a European Super League whilst PSG have always advocated against it. The ESL was widely criticised for both financial reasons and accusations that it undermines the fair competition element of the sport. It is possible that Madrid will view PSG in the same light in the face of their business. Paying such extraordinary sums for their players and allowing them to have such an influence could be seen as being problematic in the same manner as it arguably belittles and damages the financial stability of football, the integrity of competition and its sustainability.
The focus of Madrid’s condemnation of the deal is the financial backing and plausibility of such a deal. It is hard to see where and how the contract will be afforded by PSG in a manner that adheres to the Financial Fair Play regulations. This issue is accentuated in the knowledge that PSG’s squad costs a total of €650million and the Parisian club has made a €700million loss over the last three years. This is well beyond the previous FFP rules as well as the new Financial Sustainability and Club Licensing Regulations which only permits a yearly average loss of €70million. PSG has also been criticised for its questionable sponsorship income statistics and other financial infringements.
The consequences of this financial malpractice could be felt following Madrid’s complaint to UEFA and the European Club Association (ECA) after Mbappe’s new contract was announced. They are determined to ensure that PSG are found guilty of FFP misconduct and it is possible that this will be heard in European courts or the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). However, one obstacle that this challenge faces is that Al Khelaifi, the PSG President himself, is one of the top authorities at the ECA and sits on the executive committee board at UEFA. The first response that PSG could give is to point towards the very similar financial package that Real Madrid had offered Mbappe which is exactly what they are criticising their Parisian rivals for.
It remains likely that Kylian Mbappe will one day be seen in a Real Madrid shirt scoring goals at the Bernabeu. However, the rising reputation and stature of Paris Saint Germain as a European powerhouse has delayed this reality for now. His contract renewal may be looked back upon as a vital moment in the evolution of football towards a system of mega-contracts for the game’s biggest superstars.
The new contract also opens a gateway for more similarly structured contracts in the future that grant the player a substantial amount of power and an influential role over major club decisions and strategies. The loss of complete control of a club’s sporting director, President and Manager, coupled with an extraordinarily high financial cost could be a slippery slope that ultimately damages the integrity, sustainability and stability of football. Alternatively, it could be an integral step for football to progress and continue to adapt and modernise and this type of contract could become the new norm.