Kylian Mbappe is the only option for a smooth post-Neymar transition at Barcelona
Years of money being thrown at transfers may now be about to peak. It was only a matter of time before a player moved for £100million or more, but nobody saw the events of this summer coming.
Monaco striker sensation Kylian Mbappe was supposed to be the story of the window and many even predicted he would be that first £100million player. Aged just 18, such a fee seems out of this world, but scoring 21 goals in Ligue 1 and the Champions League make the cliché of a player of his ability being good value ‘in the modern market’ all the more true. Yet, even a story as captivating as this has been overshadowed by what could stand for a very long time as the biggest transfer in the world, and not just because it will cost €222million plus a five-year contract worth around half a million per-week.
Rarely are players prized away from Barcelona and Real Madrid, but as Paris Saint-Germain prepare to pay Neymar’s buyout clause at Camp Nou, they are perched on the brink of history. There are so many reasons why the two Spanish giants are the pinnacle of modern football, but the Blaugrana’s arrogance, and Neymar’s alleged desire to better his chances of being crowned the best player in the world by leaving Lionel Messi’s side, has seen this deal develop from an impossibility to almost complete.
Less than a month remain in the transfer window, and Barcelona are giving off a real sense of desperation as they scramble to find a replacement. Buying a player of the required standard needs immense planning, but it is clear they are reacting to the shock news about Neymar as slowly as the general public. Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele and Paulo Dybala have all been mentioned as potential signings, but whatever happens, prices have just about doubled for Josep Maria Bartomeu and the board.
Any player who has made an impact like Mbappe has over the last 12 months will be linked with every big club on the continent, and a huge fee is fully expected in the modern day. Manchester City and Arsenal have both flirted with meeting Monaco’s high demands, but the longer the saga runs on, the clearer it becomes that the French champions believe only two clubs can afford their protégé: Real Madrid and, with €222million set to burn a hole in their pockets, Barcelona.
Reports suggest both will go head to head for Mbappe in the closing weeks of the summer window. Previously laughing off rumours of a move to the Santiago Bernabeu, claiming they had been chasing him since he was 14, Mbappe is said to be keen to leave the Stade Louis II. Generally speaking, he is being encouraged to stay in Ligue 1 because at his age it is more vital than anything that he plays every week. But Mbappe is not the average youngster, and while teenagers would not usually have much of a chance of starting at Real or Barça, he is already showing maturity beyond his years. From the Catalan’s point of view, too, there is a starting spot ready and waiting for a player who fits the profile of Mbappe.
In losing Neymar, Barcelona are delaying their evolution. Everything has, understandably, been driven towards helping Messi conquer the world, but having turned 30 in June, the realisation he will not last forever is beginning to set in. Similarly a little further south, in Madrid, Los Blancos need to put a post-Cristiano Ronaldo plan in place. Mbappe is the perfect fit for either because, crucially, he has a lot to learn under the wing of either Messi or Ronaldo before taking the spotlight for himself.
Particularly at Barcelona, the focus on the talisman is seen as a real problem from teammates point of view. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and David Villa were both bought and sold after failing to adapt to the team alongside the Argentine; Neymar was meant to be different.
In 2013, he joined from Santos and was fully expected to take Messi’s crown one day, but even though they and Luis Suarez made up the best attacking trio in the world, netting over 300 goals in three years, and seemingly enjoyed a friendship, Neymar has made the decision to step out of his shadow.
Striking a deal for Mbappe would make a lot of sense for Real Madrid, too. Zinedine Zidane has won almost everything in less than two years as coach, so can afford to look to the future. Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema are at their peak now, and younger blood would offer mote contingency when Ronaldo, now 32, sees his decline accelerate.
Inserting release clauses in contracts in mandatory in Spain, and while Barcelona and Real Madrid have always attempted to get them as high as possible, the growth in transfer fees meant that, eventually, clubs would be able to realistically afford their stars.
The lack of preparation has cost badly in the Neymar case, and some have said he is irreplaceable; his trajectory suggests he will become one of the greatest players ever, but looking at the players available, Mbappe seems like the best fit for now, but particularly for the eventual post-Messi era at the Camp Nou.
Weeks, if not days ago, signing Kylian Mbappe would have been nowhere near Barcelona’s radar. But losing Neymar has shocked their system, and while there are only a few players with his ability, early signs are the Frenchman may be an ideal option to step into his, and Lionel Messi’s, giant boots.