After managing to hold onto his star player when it looked likely he would depart for Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain President Nasser Al-Khelaifi has promised “a lot of changes” in order to “create a new era” at the club.
Even as recently as a couple of weeks ago, it looked highly improbable that Kylian Mbappe would remain in the French capital. Images and videos emerged of him dining in Madrid, as a move to Real began to look inevitable.
After a tumultuous season that saw PSG win only the Ligue 1 title – a trophy that under fire head coach Mauricio Pochettino admitted “wasn’t enough” to match the club’s ambitions – and crumble in dramatic fashion once again in the Champions League, it would have been hard to imagine a bright future for the French side had Mbappe left for free.
Even with Lionel Messi and Neymar in PSG’s ranks, there is no doubt that Mbappe is the club’s most prized asset both on the pitch and economically.
There is a palpable sense of relief around the Parc des Princes that PSG has been able to convince its young superstar to sign a new three-year contract, but Al-Khelaifi insists there is still a lot of work to be done over the summer.
“For sure there are a lot of changes that are going to happen,” the PSG president told CNN’s Amanda Davies in Paris. “We’re going to announce it probably [at the] end of the week.”
Those words will sound particularly ominous to Pochettino and PSG’s sporting director Leonardo, as speculation grows over the pair’s future at the Parisian club.
When pressed on whether there will be a new manager in charge in the dugout, Al-Khelaifi replied: “We want to create a new era of Paris Saint-Germain; a new project, fresh air. I think it’s really important that everybody gets motivated again.
“The loss in the Champions League was not easy, which I take responsibility [for],” added Al-Khelaifi, referring to the quarterfinal defeat by Real Madrid, despite PSG dominating both legs of the tie.
“I’m the president and I’m responsible, but anything can happen and anything will happen in the future. I’m not blaming anyone, whoever will stay or will leave, I’m one of the first one responsible with anything, the results.
“So I’m not blaming anyone and this is really important for me, but in the end, you know, we have choices to do. We have decisions to take.
“We [will] take some of them, some of them are coming soon and I think that really what we want to achieve basically [is] to be stronger than last season – and that’s the only objective I want, to be bigger than last season.”
‘We are one of the big clubs’
Despite rumors of Mbappe’s departure swirling for months, Al-Khelaifi claims he always remained “really confident” the 23-year-old would remain in Paris.
But this season has perhaps been more difficult than anyone at the club could have imagined. When PSG announced last summer that it was signing Messi, one of the greatest players of all time, as a free agent following his departure from Barcelona, few would have expected the team to perform as it did.
Even the silver lining of the season, the team’s Ligue 1 title win, was met with scorn by the fans. After PSG limped to a 1-1 draw at home to Lens to secure a French record-equaling 10th title, large sections of the Parc des Princes crowd booed their team at half-time, before leaving the stadium with 15 minutes remaining of the match.
Frustrated by the team’s embarrassing capitulation against Real Madrid in the Champions League, fans made their feelings known and the stadium had emptied almost entirely within 10 minutes of the full-time whistle. Players even skipped the traditional lap of honor after winning the league.
Al-Khelaifi admits there were “a lot of things” that didn’t go right this season.
“We won the Ligue 1, which I think people said was really easy, but to win the trophy is never easy,” he said. “[In the] Champions League, honestly I think we did not do badly, until 65 minutes of the second match against Real when controlling the whole match.
“Here we should win four-nil, but Real won and deserved to win. Congratulations to them. That’s the truth. There are more details in the Champions League, always small details and you need to be lucky and you need to also believe in yourself, the players and all the staff.
“We really believe we are one of the big clubs today, I really believe it myself, and everybody needs to believe and work on this. When you wear the jersey of Paris Saint-Germain, you are big player at a big club and you only win here, that’s the mentality we want to create.
“It’s not easy sometimes, we know, but that’s what we want to build, the spirit and winning mentality.”
‘There is love’
Much of the talk around Mbappe’s new deal has been about the reported eye-watering sums of money he has been given; Al-Khelaifi says he met with Mbappe and his family on numerous occasions during the negotiating process, but insists they spoke about “nothing besides football.”
By staying at PSG, Mbappe becomes world football’s highest-paid player on wages of around £1 million ($1.25M) a week after pocketing a signing-on fee in the region of £100m ($125M), according to Sky Sports.
But instead, Al-Khelaifi believes Mbappe was only motivated by the sporting project PSG presented to him and opportunity to keep representing his hometown club at the highest level.
“The one thing they care about: just the sport and the football,” he said. “We have the same objective … basically, we want to win and he wants to win. He’s a fighter; he’s a winner.
“Don’t forget, he’s Parisian, he’s a French. He loves his country. He loves his club. He’s played for the club for five years, there’s a relationship. There is love between him, the club, the fans, his country. So I think it was really important and people maybe they underestimate that.
“They think that it’s just contract and who can offer more, which is not [true] at all. I think we he’s really amazing. Besides being an amazing player, the best player in the world, he’s a fantastic person also.”