Mbappe to PSG set to turn Ligue 1 into a one-horse race again
Kylian Mbappe has rarely been out of the headlines since exploding onto the first-team scene with Monaco at the beginning of the year. Although the 18-year-old has played only one competitive match for the Ligue 1 champions this season, he remains firmly in them, eager to force a move to Paris Saint-Germain before the close of the transfer window.
The attraction for the player is obvious: PSG are his hometown club and one making a concerted push to attain the Champions League crown that has eluded them since QSI took over the club in 2011.
Having signed Neymar for €222 million – an unimaginable amount only two months ago – the Parc des Princes side are set to flex their financial muscle once more to capture the teenage sensation for a fee reported to be in the region of €150m. Of course, they will have to throw in a player, possibly Lucas Moura, at that price, too.
Just as Ligue 1 started to get interesting, PSG have moved to stamp out any signs of resistance from their domestic competition. Embarrassed by their failure to win the title last season, robbed of their crown by a freewheeling band of youths from the rocky principality, they are making sure that that they are taken seriously again as a threat both at home and abroad.
Although it has always been the aim of QSI to install a French spine to the side, they have rarely plundered Ligue 1 rivals directly since the big money arrived. Indeed, Mbappe and Layvin Kurzawa could be the only player on their books by the end of the transfer window signed directly from French rivals, as Serge Aurier and Hatem Ben Arfa are both destined to leave.
It is natural that Unai Emery’s side are attracted to such a talent – after all, Mbappe is poised to become the game’s great superstar. If he is harnessed alongside Neymar over the next couple of years, PSG will have a forward line to rival Barcelona’s ‘MSN’ or Real Madrid’s ‘BBC’ as one of the greatest in the modern era.
But while Neymar’s arrival in Ligue 1 was greeted with widespread pleasure, the prospect of Mbappe moving to Paris has come with a reception a good deal cooler.
Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas has been one of the chief sceptics, arguing that there is a need for competitive balance in France’s top flight.
“When you see Sunday's game, is it useful for Mbappe to come to PSG? Is it useful for the competition and the economic evolution of football?” he told RMC after Neymar had put on a masterclass to dismantle Toulouse 6-2 in the capital.
“It is going to improve PSG's performance if Kylian Mbappe comes? If you hoard the best players in one team with supernatural money, you don't have competition any more.
“If you no longer have balance in terms of the investors, in the long term, you risk no longer having the incredible football we saw with PSG. I'm afraid we're heading into an arms race, which is pointless.”
Aulas’ feeling is that Paris are using a sledgehammer to crack a nut holds true on the domestic scene, although their dismal performance in the market last summer was mirrored by their efforts on the field.
PSG’s move for Neymar was criticised by Bayern Munich CEO Uli Hoeness, who branded the extravagant €222 million spend “a sign of weakness”.
If that was not to Bayern’s tastes, their latest deal is straight out of the Bundesliga giants’ playbook – namely to buy the oppositions’ strongest players.
The Allianz Arena side have been at it for years, notable plundering star after star from Borussia Dortmund. Mats Hummels, Robert Lewandowski and Mario Gotze have all made the jump since Jurgen Klopp led BVB back to prominence, yet the threat coming from the Westfalenstadion has been stymied by FCB’s ability to hoover up their best players.
For all of the German league’s charms, competition certainly isn’t one.
In none of the last five seasons have Bayern remotely been pushed in a title race – they have ended the campaign at least 10 points clear of their nearest rivals. Only twice has that been the case in France, where the season is four matches longer and should allow a superior team to open up a greater gap.
Monaco boss Leonardo Jardim put it another way last week when he said, “The transfer market is 20% buying and selling, but 80% causing mayhem for your rivals.”
And it seems that the Parisians have achieved both in this instance.
Ligue 1 now finds itself standing on the brink of a Bundesliga scenario, in which one team starts the season knowing it will take a miracle for them to fail.
By this time next week PSG may boast the two most expensive players in footballing history, coming in at the astronomical cost of €372m – almost equivalent to the combined fees of Paul Pogba, Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain.
Such incredible spending means that there is not a side in Ligue 1 that stands a chance. Even the brilliant Monaco of last term would have been swept aside.
So while PSG welcome in a bright new era, they also usher the death knell to serious competition in France’s top flight.