Whether or not Neymar has been a success at Paris Saint-Germain depends on who you ask. There’s no doubting the Brazilian forward has inflated the profile of the French club. His record of 86 and 51 assists in 113 appearances also hints at the firepower a world record €222m transfer fee bought PSG.
Neymar has won the Ligue 1 title in every season he has spent in Paris, also playing a role in taking PSG to their first Champions League final last year. For many, though, the 29-year-old’s failure to deliver club soccer’s biggest prize during his four-year stint at the Parc des Princes makes him a failure.
A new three-year contract extension signed last week will at least give Neymar further opportunity to change negative perceptions of him, but there is less certainty around the future of his strike partner. Indeed, Kylian Mbappe’s contract is set to expire next summer with discussions over an extension believed to have stalled.
Mbappe is widely seen as soccer’s next great. The argument could be made that he is already the best in the sport, supported by his sparkling performances in this season’s Champions League. PSG desperately missed Mbappe in the second leg of their Champions League semi-final defeat to Manchester City, with the 22-year-old injured on the bench.
While Neymar was signed to be the face of ‘Project PSG’ in 2017, it’s Mbappe who has very much become the club’s billboard star. Whether or not the French giants can convince the World Cup winner beyond the summer of 2022 will determine the future direction of the club. Everything will hinge on that.
For years, Mbappe has been seemingly destined to play for Real Madrid. The Santiago Bernabeu outfit wanted to sign the forward when he was at Monaco and have maintained their interest ever since, with the Spanish club reportedly in contact with the player. Mbappe is thought to be keen on a move to Madrid.
Liverpool have also been mentioned as potential suitors, although the Anfield club might find it tricky to find the money to sign soccer’s most sought-after asset, but a move to the Premier League would surely be attractive to Mbappe. He would have a number of options available to him should he decide to leave PSG.
The departure of Mbappe would force PSG into the market to find a replacement. The Qatari-backed club would have some salary space freed up even if they don’t collect a transfer fee, in the case of Mbappe leaving as a free agent next summer. This could create a domino-effect across European soccer.
Mohamed Salah has recently been linked with a switch to the Parc des Princes, with the Egyptian reportedly open to a move away from Liverpool. This would subsequently force Liverpool into the transfer market for a replacement. The ripples from Mbappe’s departure from PSG would be felt across the sport.
While some of these alternative options might be appealing to PSG, their best chance of success over the coming years is to build around Mbappe. They must prove to the French forward that the Parc des Princes, not Anfield or the Santiago Bernabeu or anywhere else, is the best place for him to fulfill his potential as soccer’s next true superstar.
At present, Mbappe doesn’t have the support system he requires. Far too often this season the 22-year-old has been asked to do it all on his own, particularly when Neymar has been sidelined through injury. PSG’s midfield lacks structure. Their defence is being held together by Marquinhos with their full back areas especially weak.
‘Project PSG’ is at a critical juncture. It’s been a decade since the club was bought by Qatar Sports Investments and there is a sense PSG are now entering a third phase under their owners. If the first phase was defined by Edinson Cavani and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and the second phase Neymar and Mbappe, it’s as of yet unclear who will lead them into a new phase.