Monaco star Kylian Mbappe caught in power struggle over PSG battle
It was both sad and powerful to see Kylian Mbappe on the Monaco bench last Sunday at Dijon.
Not once did he even get up to warm up. He stayed there with the other subs -- the likes of Guido Carrillo and Andrea Raggi -- as if he were a random player, not good enough for a game like this.
He clapped a bit for each of Monaco's four goals. There were a few smiles, but he also must have thought a few times, "Why am I here and not there, on the pitch?"
After an incredible final six months of last season, Mbappe, who is being chased by clubs across Europe, should be having fun playing. He should be tormenting defenders, scoring goals and increasing his value even more.
He didn't come on at all, and the sole reason for that is his transfer situation. He wants to leave Monaco and join Paris Saint-Germain, snubbing Manchester City and Real Madrid. He made his mind up a few days ago and now dreams of forming a front three with Neymar and Edinson Cavani. The problem is that Monaco don't want to sell him to their biggest domestic rivals. They have never got on with Paris and are playing hardball with them -- over Mbappe but also over Fabinho -- despite both players wanting play at the Parc des Princes.
The French prodigy has not done anything wrong. He has not betrayed Monaco, who signed him when he was 14 and developed him into the incredible player he is today. Yes, he did meet or speak to most of Europe's big-name managers, like Arsene Wenger, Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Zinedine Zidane, between May and June. But he also had a meeting with Vadim Vasilyev, the Monaco vice president in charge of player contracts and transfers, to discuss the possibility of extending his deal (the current one finishes in June 2019) and staying at least another year at the Stade Louis II.
For his decision to leave for PSG, Monaco decided to bench him against Dijon.
"The decision came from the club, from the people who decide," manager Leonardo Jardim said after.
He was told to do it, and he obeyed. Of course, it helped that it was "only" Dijon that Monaco were visiting. It might have been a different story had they played one of the big guns away instead. Yet, it was still a big statement. Player power against club power. Who will win? Will Mbappe still be a Monaco player come Sept. 1? This one could drag on for the rest of summer. In private, the Monaco hierarchy have stated for weeks, off the record, they would never sell him or any other player to PSG.
It looks like they mean it, too. PSG, who are yet to make an offer for him, need to sell a few players before launching a bid to lure him back to Paris, where he was born and grew up. The club from the Principality are not happy at all right now, and benching Mbappe was a huge call. It paid off because Monaco won easily, with Radamel Falcao scoring a lovely hat trick. Against Toulouse the previous weekend, he was far from his best and was subbed off after 74 minutes.
Monaco play away at Metz on Friday evening and Mbappe could well be on the bench again. Right now, he most likely will lose in his clash with Monaco and stay there for the season, unless PSG can pull off a fantastic coup by finding a way of recruiting him.
The situation is also bad for the French national team. Didier Deschamps, the coach, was in the stands for the game against Toulouse and would not have been impressed by the performance of his young protégé. And now he is only training and not playing.
With the crucial match against Netherlands in Paris in the World Cup qualifiers on Aug. 31 approaching, Mbappe could see his place in the squad jeopardised by his clash with Monaco, which would weaken the French squad.
It should not have come to this.
Julien Laurens is a London-based French journalist who writes for ESPN FC and Le Parisien. Follow him on Twitter: @LaurensJulien.