Kylian Mbappe has been PSG's shining light in a season of chaos - Real Madrid would be mad not to eventually sign him

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The forward's goals and embracing of a newly-inherited leadership role have saved the Parisians from even further embarrassment in 2022-23

Kylian Mbappe was never really going to miss the spot- kick. The France striker stepped up and stared down a timid Strasbourg goalkeeper, took four anticipatory steps, and lashed his shot into the bottom corner. After scoring, he careened off into the Paris night, having bagged a 96th-minute winner to lead Paris Saint-Germain to victory.

The confident effort came for a struggling PSG side, one that had seen Neymar sent off and lacked the presence of Lionel Messi, who was still on an Argentine beach, celebrating a World Cup win. It's the kind of high-pressure situation Mbappe has been forced to embrace all season, a virtuosic moment in the midst of what's been an unselfish year for the new France captain.

Mbappe isn't exactly one to stay quiet, despite Neymar and Messi out-shining him in both controversy and internet traffic. But, despite his team-mates' tendencies for late-night fast food runs and Saudi Arabia trips, he has managed to retain a semblance of professionalism.

And with manager Christophe Galtier likely to be sacked, football advisor Luis Camps very publically feuding with the team, and fans swearing at star players, Mbappe has been the sole bright spot. He may not have delivered on the European success he has repeatedly pledged to bring to Parc des Princes, but PSG have needed him more than ever.

His goals, commitment to the club and unlikely leadership have brought stability to a club that was otherwise losing control, and have been vital in ensuring a Ligue 1 title that has, at times, looked like slipping away. All they have to do now, is keep him.

  1. The goals
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    The goals

    Mbappe is supposed to score goals. He has proved, for France, Monaco and PSG, that he is among the best goalscorers in world football. He set admittedly high standards for himself at just 17, when he bagged 15 and assisted seven for a Monaco side that won Ligue 1. But he's followed up on it with every season, all the way through to a historic hat-trick in the 2022 World Cup final.

    Still, a look at the numbers will suggest that this is perhaps Mbappe's worst attacking season since 2020. The winger has been pushed by Florian Balogun, Jonathan David and Alexandre Lacazette for the Ligue 1 Golden Boot, the latter of whom is now level with him atop the goalscoring charts as the season enters its final weeks.

    The underlying stats say much of the same. Though Mbappe's 26 goals and four assists in 31 appearances are nothing to be sniffed at, his per-90-minute numbers are at the lowest they've been since 2018, when the Frenchman unforgivably dropped below averaging a goal or assist every game.

    These are small gripes, but perhaps indicative of a player still not reaching his best. Injuries have certainly played a role, highlighted by a hamstring problem that impacted him for a few weeks in February. There is also certainly something to be said for the mental impact of losing a World Cup final on penalties despite being the best player on the pitch for most of the contest.

    Perhaps, then, his 30 goal involvements in Ligue 1 and 10 in the Champions League are more impressive given the circumstances around him. In a messy environment, it would be unfair to demand outright improvement of already gaudy standards. That he has even come close to them is an immense achievement.

    The goals have come with an agreeable rhythm, too. Mbappe hasn't gone more than three Ligue 1 starts without scoring all season, and all-but four of PSG's 23 wins have come in a contest in which the Frenchman has found the net. This isn't the most prolific edition of Mbappe, but it might be the most reliable.

  2. The armband

    The armband

    Back in January, Galtier made the rather unexpected announcement that Mbappe would be PSG's vice-captain going forward. It was, apparently, news to the former holder of that position, Presnel Kimpbembe, who admitted that he had not been told by his manager that Mbappe would be the second in line for the armband.

    Still, Mbappe seized the role all the same, and has captained the club a handful of times when usual skipper Marquinhos has been either rested or injured. And in those fixtures, Mbappe has turned into an unlikely leader of sorts, often seen rallying a languid side.

    There is the cynical view here: that Mbappe is the face of the project and a massive ego that demands the armband by aura instead of merit. After all, a fluorescent strap on the bicep might sell a few more shirts, and "Captain Mbappe" does look better in social media graphics.

    But there are perhaps some more sensible points. Mbappe has been made captain of France, favoured over a number of older, more experienced players, notably Antoine Griezmann. His performances in big games for club and country — such as that in the World Cup final or his brace against Juventus to open the Champions League group stages — certainly inspire in a tangible way. He is also a player with a deep connection to the club.

    Although he played for Monaco and still pines to wear a Real Madrid shirt someday, Mbappe is a Parisian who trained at France's famous Clairefontaine Academy. He knows the city, and certainly understands what it means to play for the club — and the nation it is so intrinsically connected with. These are overused phrases and football cliches, but for a team seeing its identity manipulated by a nation-state thousands of miles away, they can also be of comfort. Symbolism, it turns out, can be quite a powerful thing.

  3. The promise
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    The promise

    Still, Mbappe's performances will always be impacted by the presence of Real Madrid. It remains something of an open secret that he wants to play in the Spanish capital one day; and Madrid wouldn't exactly say no, either.

    Since he was handed the armband, though, Mbappe has been quick to emphasise that he doesn't plan on going anywhere — at least, not immediately. He reassured fans as such in an interview in April, where he said in no uncertain terms: "I'm a Parisian and under contract. So it's PSG."

    That was a significant assertion in the scope of a season full of distractions, a singular promise that momentarily calmed nerves in Paris. It also saved Mbappe from the ire of the PSG ultras, who have swiftly turned on the team after a litany of poor performances.

    This assertion, though, comes with a set of assumptions. There is an acceptance that PSG will lose Messi at the end of the season, while they are reportedly willing to listen to offers for Neymar. If both of those departures happen, Mbappe will be the outright star of a team that still wants to compete for the Champions League. This is not a team that has the patience to thank the fans for their unwavering support after a loss at Benfica.

    Mbappe will perhaps demand the players to back up his commitment. PSG have been linked with his international team-mates Randal Kolo Muani and Marcus Thuram in recent weeks, while Victor Osimhen and Bernardo Silva have been mentioned as other potential attacking signings. Campos also supposedly wants another midfielder and centre-back.

    Mbappe's done his bit; now PSG are expected to do theirs.

  4. The future
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    The future

    That investment, if it comes, still might not be enough. Real Madrid links keep popping up, despite Mbappe's assurances to PSG fans. It recently emerged that Madrid value Vinicius Jr more than Mbappe, and while that may well be the case this summer, especially when Los Blancos still have to finalise a new deal with their current star left-winger. But in 2025, when Mbappe will probably be able to leave PSG for free, Madrid will likely be the top contenders, if not outright favourites, for his signing.

    They reportedly came close to signing him last summer, with Mbappe holding discussions to some extent with Los Blancos before blindsiding them by accepting a bigger financial package from the Parisians. It was a move that seemed to have little impact on the famously humble Madrid hierarchy, who took Europe's hottest commodity turning them down very well. So much so, in fact, that Madrid president Florentino Perez bashed Mbappe in the press less than a month after he penned a new deal, claiming that, "this Mbappe is not the Mbappe I wanted."

    Whether Madrid swallow their damaged pride remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the fact that it has been leaked that they like Vinicius more than Mbappe seems more like a petty tactic than an absolute truth. Vinicius is an excellent footballer, but Mbappe is quite simply on another level. Madrid probably know that.

    This is, after all, a player who scored three in the World Cup final, averages nearly a goal per game in his career, and has carried a famously dysfunctional side to a surprisingly difficult Ligue 1 title. It is only a "farmer's league" if your side is functional enough to prove it as such.

    Mbappe may have rescued PSG this year, but it's hard not to see him eventually making Santiago Bernabeu his home someday.