Kylian Saint-Germain? The age of pandering at PSG is coming to an end | Luke Entwistle

Kylian Saint-Germain? The age of pandering at PSG is coming to an end | Luke Entwistle

Luís Enrique has knocked Kylian Mbappé off the pedestal that Paris Saint-Germain had made for him and the reaction to it has summed up the problematic deification of the France captain.

The Mbappé farewell tour made a familiar stop on Friday night. The Frenchman returned to his formative club Monaco, perhaps for the final time, with a departure from PSG and Ligue 1 looming. Despite his contribution to the French game and his significance in the Principality club’s recent history, Mbappé was not warmly received at the Stade Louis II, with his name booed ahead of kick-off. His relationship with Les Monégasques has soured somewhat; his relationship with PSG has not yet reached its end, but it is heading the same way, as evidenced by a banner unfurled by prominent fan group Block Parisii, which read “KM: Bring on 30/06”, referencing the expiry date of the France captain’s contract.

Captain on the night, Mbappé was ineffective against the impressive Wilfried Singo, losing possession on 10 occasions and winning just a third of his duels. His substitution at half-time was therefore perfectly logical; for the first time, Mbappé is being treated like an ordinary footballer. The reality is that he is anything but, and Luís Enrique’s decision precipitated a national scandal of sorts.

Replaced by Randal Kolo Muani, Mbappé emerged from the tunnel in the 48th minute. No longer in his kit, he lapped up the applause of the travelling PSG fans as he made his way around the track at the Stade Louis II, took a selfie with a fan and then, instead of taking a seat on the bench, made his way up to the VIP boxes to sit alongside his mother and agent Fayza Lamari. Located three rows above PSG president Nasser al-Khelaifi and sporting consultant Luís Campos, it was a visual metaphor of the place that he has come to inherit at the club.

With the game ending in a scoreless draw, the result itself was never going to be on the agenda in the debrief. “It’s a sauna room [in here],” began Luís Enrique as he entered the post-match press conference. Things would get even more heated as the Spaniard had to deal with a persistent line of questioning regarding his decision to substitute Mbappé.

“It was 100% the coach’s decision. Sooner or later, we will have to get used to playing without Kylian Mbappé. It is my decision and one that I take with the objective of doing the best for the team … I don’t have a problem [with him]. It’s just a question of management and how best to manage the squad,” began Luís Enrique, who by the third successive question on the topic had become exasperated.

“Three out of three! A hat-trick. Three questions on the same subject. Are we going to go for four?” Reluctantly, the topic was changed, but the inquest had only just begun. Both Mbappé and Luís Enrique have been subjected to criticism for the handling of the situation. The latter, who has failed to endear himself to the French press since his arrival in the summer, now has a target on his back and an Mbappé-shaped stick to be beaten with in the event of failure, but above all, it is an indictment of PSG itself.

Khelaifi has repeatedly stated that no player is bigger than the club, a statement that Luís Enrique has begun to echo in recent weeks. It is a notion that Mbappé has tried, and failed to dispel too. “It’s not Kylian Saint-Germain,” said the Frenchman after the club posted a video in which he featured prominently for a season ticket renewal campaign launched in April 2023.

“At no time was I informed of the intention of the content of the interview. It looked like a basic interview at a club marketing day. I disagree with this video that was posted. This is why I fight for individual image rights. PSG is a big club and a big family, but it is certainly not Kylian Saint-Germain.”

Kylian Mbappé sits in the stands with his mother Fayza Lamari after being substituted at half-time against Monaco. Photograph: Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

Yet the latest episode in a damming allegory of unfettered player-power proves the opposite. When a decision as logical as substituting a player that is under-performing unleashes such vitriol, it not only undermines the manager, but the whole sporting project.

Luís Enrique isn’t taking the path of least resistance and is sticking to his principles. Mbappé has not played a full 90 minutes in PSG’s last three Ligue 1 games. This is a trend that looks set to continue as the manager plans for a future without Mbappé and constructs the foundations that have never been fully laid. The Mbappé farewell tour therefore may have some of its legs cancelled, but the expectation has been that Mbappé would remain untouchable in the Champions League. Luís Enrique has dismissed those notions ahead of Tuesday’s second leg against Real Sociedad.

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The Mbappé situation is more than a simple subtext ahead of the event, it completely overshadows it. The Champions League has been the holy grail in the eyes of the QSI ownership since they took the reins at PSG back in 2011 but within the current context it becomes almost an afterthought. The sporting objectives of the club get lost amongst the socio-political manoeuvring in which Mbappé has invariably found himself involved and the existential crises that questions surrounding his future have often evoked.

Regardless of the divide that is growing at PSG, Les Parisiens will be strong favourites to advance against Real Sociedad. However, their form this season suggests that they will not be one of the major contenders to win the Champions League. Back-to-back draws in Ligue 1 evidence a shift in focus towards the European competition, but they also suggest a dip in form, and at a crucial time; Mbappé’s individual decline in recent weeks is not insignificant in this drop-off.

PSG have taken their eyes off the prize; Mbappé is not a trophy, even if he has been treated as such. The club are still no closer to winning the Champions League. The galacticos era, of which Mbappé is the last remnant, did not herald an age of dominance. Luís Enrique reducing Mbappé to the level of a “normal” yet extremely-talented footballer, lays the foundation for a more functional club going forward. A precedent is being set as the age of pandering comes to an end, but the current situation proves that the institution that is PSG will only be bigger than an individual player when Mbappé leaves.

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