P.S.G., though, bankrolled by the state of Qatar, dug in for a fight. It had turned down an offer from Madrid of as much as 200 million euros for Mbappé last year, even though it knew he would be able to walk away for nothing as a free agent this summer.
In June, with Mbappé’s P.S.G. contract expiring, Real Madrid came back again, putting together the biggest contract package in its history. But P.S.G. countered one final time, at one point enlisting the help of President Macron. The vision the president pitched to Mbappé was one about being the standard-bearer for his country, at least for a few more years — of the chance to be a hero for France, and for P.S.G. at the same time.
Macron’s direct intervention in the career planning of a soccer player has perhaps only one precedent. In 1961, with all of Europe’s biggest teams circling, Brazil’s government passed legislation designating Pelé a “national treasure,” a cultural asset of such great importance that he could not be transferred out of the country. While Macron did not go nearly as far in his efforts to keep Mbappé in France, his words did weigh on the striker’s decision to stay.
“I never imagined I’m gonna talk with the president about my future, about my future in my career, so it’s something crazy, really something crazy,” he said. “He told me: ‘I want you to stay. I don’t want you to leave now. You are so important for the country.’”
Macron also spoke of the elephant in the room: the understanding that Mbappé will eventually join Madrid one day, saying, according to Mbappé, “‘you have time to leave, you can stay a little bit more.’”
“Of course,” Mbappé said, “when the president says that to you, that counts.” But the striker did not show his hand. Macron, just like everyone else, would have to wait.