These last 12 months have been a whirlwind for Paris Saint-Germain fans. First, there was the unimaginable transfer of the world’s best player-to-be, Neymar Jr., to the French capital. For a club outside of the traditional soccer elite, this was the coup of a lifetime. Players of Neymar’s caliber don’t often change teams in their prime, and even more rare is them leaving for a club of lower historical stature. His arrival overshadowed what would normally be the story of the year for the French club: the loan (with an option to buy) of wunderkind Kylian Mbappé from AS Monaco. Both players performed at a very high level this past season, and in an ideal world, both will be at PSG for the foreseeable future.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world and the reality is that with both players already drawing interest from Real Madrid, the long-rumored eventual destination of Neymar, it is likely that at least one will depart within a few years. Since his arrival, Neymar has been PSG’s number one priority. Ownership has done everything they can to make him happy, and former manager Unai Emery confirmed as much before his departure when he called the Brazilian the leader of the club. However, after a FIFA World Cup that saw Mbappé become the hottest name in football, the club now has some thinking to do.
The World Cup was Mbappé’s first major tournament as a member of the France national team and he scored four goals, routinely beat world-class left-backs with his speed and dribbling ability, and took home the Young Player of the Tournament award. His month in Russia was a statement that he’s not the “next big thing” in world football: he’s already arrived. And, if you didn’t hear it enough during the World Cup, he’s only 19-years-old. The sky is the limit for him, and the time has come for the club to shift its focus from doing everything it can to keep Neymar, to doing everything it can to keep Mbappé.
There are several advantages to keeping Mbappé. First, he’s almost seven years younger. Neymar is in the prime of his career, but Mbappé likely has at least 12-15 seasons ahead of him. While he may not be at Neymar’s level yet, he’s already a superstar and his stratospheric ascent has revealed no clear limit of his potential—he’s the long-term building block that elite teams drool over. He’s also a native of Paris and may feel a connection to his hometown club that Neymar doesn’t and likely never will. If the goal of the project is to build a new European power, the model should be Juventus FC and FC Bayern Munich. Not Real Madrid or Manchester United. PSG’s power is to continue as the main Ligue 1 power, but also as a perennial contender for the UEFA Champions League.
If Neymar decides to make PSG his long-term home and the club has also held onto Mbappé, then PSG is destined to collect domestic and European trophies for years to come. However, if Madrid is circling and a decision between the two has to be made, Mbappé is the best bet. PSG need players who want to put Paris on the world football map in a way that it has never been before, and a long career at the club is more important than just a player’s talent. Even if his ultimate ambition is to move on to Real Madrid or a top English club, Mbappé has so many seasons in front of him that he could easily stay for a handful of seasons before moving onto another big club, and still be in his early prime. Betting on Mbappé over Neymar is still far from a sure thing, but until it doesn’t feel like Neymar has one eye on Madrid, I would think there is a better chance for Mbappé to have a long career with Les Parisiens.
In some ways, the PSG project has been more successful than anyone could have imagined. Breaking into football royalty is not common or easy, but in the past year, PSG has managed to sign two of the most sought-after players in the world. However, what really makes a club great isn’t the peaks it hits, it’s longevity and consistency. Mbappé has over a decade of great football in front of him, his connection to Paris could help PSG convince him to stay, and his presence may help draw other hometown talents (did someone say Paul Pogba?). The club should certainly try and keep Neymar and do what they can to please him, but the ultimate goal of the club should be to make Mbappé the face of PSG for years to come.