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Friday, June 21, 2024

Real Madrid Has Finally Signed Kylian Mbappé. Here’s How It Was Done.

SportReal Madrid Has Finally Signed Kylian Mbappé. Here’s How It Was Done.

Real Madrid have been trying to land Kylian Mbappe for years — and now they finally have their man.

The 25-year-old Frenchman’s signing was confirmed on Monday, more than two years on from their previous attempt to bring him in.

In May 2022, Mbappe dramatically turned down a move to Madrid, making a last-minute decision to renew his contract at Paris Saint-Germain instead. This time, things have gone much more smoothly, and there is great excitement among everyone at Madrid over the arrival of one of the world’s best players, especially with the squad that just won the club’s 15th European Cup/Champions League already brimming with young talent.

But that doesn’t mean the free-agent transfer has been without intrigue — and nor was it totally unopposed.

This is the full story of how Madrid finally signed Mbappe.


The start of 2024 marked the beginning of the end.

In early January, at Madrid’s Valdebebas training complex — where the club’s offices are also located — it was agreed that a final attempt to sign Mbappe would be made.

Several meetings were held on the matter, but some senior figures at Madrid were not convinced it was a good idea.

The thinking behind this was two-fold. First of all, there were concerns the club’s interests could be damaged again after Mbappe’s rejection two years ago. Others simply thought the time was not right — for both sporting and economic reasons.

Some preferred to be more cautious with the club’s finances — which are in good shape, even with the extensive remodelling of their Santiago Bernabeu stadium, which will cost at least €1.3billion (£1.1bn; $1.4bn at current rates).

Some thought the positive dressing-room atmosphere could be affected by Mbappe entering as the highest-paid player when the vast majority of his new team-mates had won more trophies for the club. Some thought Madrid could get by fine without him — especially with 17-year-old Brazilian Endrick set to arrive and the team already performing admirably.

In short: there was a view that Madrid’s project was working really well without Mbappe.

But club president Florentino Perez decided nonetheless that another attempt would be made, with the above factors taken into account. It was also decided that Mbappe would be given a deadline to respond to this new proposal, the terms of which would be lower than the one in 2022. According to sources familiar with those previous talks — like all sources cited in this article, they preferred to speak anonymously to protect relationships — Mbappe was offered a six-season contract with a €130million signing bonus and a salary of €26m a year.

Mbappe took a first step of his own on January 3 when, without consulting PSG, he stopped to speak with reporters after PSG beat Toulouse in the Trophee des Champions — a game between the previous season’s winners of Ligue 1 and the French Cup, much like the Community Shield in England.

“In 2022, I didn’t know my decision until May,” Mbappe said in reply to questions about his future — it being the start of a new year, he was now into the final six months of his contract and free to negotiate with interested clubs.

“If I know what I want to do, I shouldn’t let the decision drag on. It wouldn’t make any sense.”

Meanwhile, PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi said the club wanted him to stay: “He is the best player in the world, and the best thing for him is PSG. He is at the heart of the project. I ask everyone to leave Kylian in peace.”


Mbappe with his Trophee des Champions winner’s medal (Christian Liewig – Corbis/Getty Images)

Mbappe’s words were interpreted positively in the Spanish capital, where Madrid were already working on the detail of their offer. When what they were proposing reached the player’s entourage in the following days, the club made it known that his salary (the offer was for slightly more than Vinicius Junior and Jude Bellingham were getting) and signing fee would make him their best-paid player.

Perez was in regular contact with Mbappe during this process, something that is unusual for Madrid’s club president. Ordinarily, his right-hand man, their director general Jose Angel Sanchez, conducts negotiations. Mbappe told Perez he was keen on the move. All the while Madrid insisted, through briefings to the media, that they had no interest in the player. But the reality was quite different — as The Athletic reported on numerous occasions.

Sanchez travelled to Paris before Madrid took part in the four-club Supercopa de Espana tournament, which was played in Saudi Arabia from January 10-14. He returned full of optimism — another good sign, as he is usually cautious and very restrained.

By the end of that month, everyone at Madrid believed a deal would be done. But still there was no definitive agreement. Some people close to Mbappe were not as clear on the move as he was.


Perez, pictured at a Madrid game in January (Angel Martinez/Getty Images)

As reported by The Athletic in mid-February, influential members of his entourage were unconvinced by the offer because it was below what he was making at PSG, and could earn from another potential suitor.

In talks with Perez, the president outlined how signing for Madrid would take the player’s profile to another sporting and marketing level, which would help bring in further personal revenue. With a few exceptions such as Vinicius Jr, the split at Madrid over image rights is usually 50 per cent for the club and 50 per cent for the player, although the share for Mbappe is expected to be in his favour.

Sources at PSG still felt it was likely that Mbappe would leave. They recalled how he had already decided last summer against taking up an option to stay for an extra year, and knew he had repeatedly expressed admiration for Madrid.

But these sources also explained that PSG felt “protected economically”. They described an agreement in principle with Mbappe that would see the club compensated financially if he did leave following the expiry of his contract on June 30. They said it was a complex arrangement that covered several scenarios — including the France captain waiving certain loyalty bonuses he might otherwise have been entitled to. Mbappe himself has also talked of “all parties being protected” when he leaves, and discussions on this aspect are still ongoing.

It remains to be seen exactly what agreement, if any, Mbappe and PSG make in this regard. But the French champions have always sought to stress that any departure for the forward at the end of the 2023-24 season would not be a ‘free transfer’ in their eyes.


Mbappe and Al-Khelaifi, pictured after PSG’s Coupe de France win (Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images)

Then came a key development.

On February 13, a Tuesday, Real Madrid played away against RB Leipzig in the first leg of a Champions League last-16 tie. Senior club figures travelled with inside information. They had been told Mbappe would inform PSG of his decision to depart at the end of the season.

The news did not become public until the Thursday, but with the Madrid squad still in Germany, the club’s board informed head coach Carlo Ancelotti. Without being told whether or not Mbappe had actually signed a contract, the Italian was made to understand that he could count on having the striker in his squad for next season.

About 10 days later, Mbappe was spotted on Spanish soil, but in Barcelona not Madrid, enjoying a few days off. One source told The Athletic he had gone to the capital first to sign his contract.

Only this week, in early June, did two more sources share further information on the February talks. They said this was when Mbappe’s move was sealed.

The final stages of negotiations were conducted in utmost secrecy. Madrid do tend to operate this way, but sources involved in the deal also said Mbappe’s mother and agent Fayza Lamari requested there be no leaks at all, in order for her son to be as protected as possible during his final months with PSG.


Mbappe scored 44 goals in 48 games for PSG last season (Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Some tensions between Mbappe and PSG followed, with manager Luis Enrique occasionally substituting him or leaving him out altogether. “We have to get used to playing without him,” the Spaniard said in March.

After being replaced at half-time of a goalless draw away to Monaco, his first professional club, on March 1, Mbappe sat in the stands with his family instead of on the bench with team-mates. Watching the rest of the match just a few rows away were members of the PSG board, and reports said there was a heated conversation between them and his mum. Madrid and the player’s camp believe PSG penalised Mbappe by reducing his playing time. Sources at the French club dismiss this as untrue.

The end was drawing near, but the fact both PSG and Madrid were still competing in the Champions League added to the strategy of total discretion. Three days after PSG were eliminated by Borussia Dortmund in the semi-finals, however, Mbappe made his decision to leave public.

“I need a new challenge after seven years,” he said, while thanking almost everyone at the club (most notably, Al-Khelaifi was not mentioned), but they did not know it was coming.

Mbappe wanted to make the announcement before PSG’s final home game of the season on Sunday, May 12. The club decided not to organise anything special for him, but the team’s ultras (with whom Mbappe had shared a barbecue on the Friday) dedicated a huge tifo to him.

The following Monday, newspaper Le Parisien reported that, in the run-up to the game, Al-Khelaifi and Mbappe had an argument, with the former reproaching the latter for not mentioning him in his farewell video.

A PSG source strongly denied this happened, adding that an agreement with Mbappe over the economic terms of his departure was almost done.

Later that Monday, Mbappe was named Ligue 1’s player of the year for a fifth consecutive season. In his acceptance speech, he did acknowledge Al-Khelaifi, who in 2021, 2022 and 2023 repeated that his star player would not leave PSG for free.

“The new chapter will be very exciting,” Mbappe said of his next move, without revealing the identity of his next club. “Maybe it’s not the time (for everyone) to find out.”

The big reveal was always expected to come after the Champions League final, this past Saturday. Madrid did not want anything, not even the biggest signing they have ever made, to distract attention from something so important and difficult to achieve.

Early on Monday, two days after the club won a record-extending 15th European Cup/Champions League title, The Athletic reported the announcement would be made this week.

Now it is finally done — and fans can excitedly look forward to seeing Mbappe in that famous white kit.

(Top photos: Getty Images; design: Eamonn Dalton)


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