Kylian Mbappe should not make £259m Saudi transfer this summer - but don’t be surprised if he does

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The Paris Saint-Germain forward is being linked with a big money move to the Middle East.

Right now, the internet, with all of its inorganic culture wars and insecure tech billionaires, is absolutely saturated by two men whose names are spelled differently but pronounced the same; Cillian and Kylian - Murphy and Mbappe - both at the searing forefront of their respective fields, both inescapable in their viral ubiquity. One is garnering attention for an earth-shattering saga in which he wrestles with the prospect of making a bomb in the desert. The other used to be in Peaky Blinders.

By now, assuming you haven’t been living off-grid in a tent on the arid plains of New Mexico, you will have heard that a certain jet-heeled phenomenon is courting a nuclear amount of affection from the Saudi Pro League - and in particular, the state-owned behemoth Al-Hilal. Perpetuating this summer’s hottest trend of Middle Eastern clubs hurling astronomical sums of money at players in an effort to lure them into their sportswashing bonanza, the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia have tabled a world record offer of around £259 million to Paris Saint-Germain for the French icon, with an additional wage packet for Mbappe himself worth roughly £604 million per year. Or £11.6 million per week. Or £19.15 per second. Again, to reiterate, astronomical.

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The general feeling is that such a deal would be grubby, unjust, and potentially ruinous for football as a competitive entity. In the opinions of many, he might as well be the subject of a bid from Al-Capone.

Saudi Pro League side Al Hilal have submitted a world-record bid for Kylian Mbappe. (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA/AFP via Getty Images)Saudi Pro League side Al Hilal have submitted a world-record bid for Kylian Mbappe. (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA/AFP via Getty Images)
Saudi Pro League side Al Hilal have submitted a world-record bid for Kylian Mbappe. (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA/AFP via Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

Matters are exacerbated by the suggestion that Al-Hilal would only be signing Mbappe on a single-year deal, and that they would be quite willing to allow the forward to join his actual preferred destination, Real Madrid, on a free transfer next summer. All that money, all that grandeur, for something so fleeting; it’s the equivalent of the Saudi Crown Prince all of a sudden investing furiously in the experimental science of resurrection, funding a crack team of unhinged geniuses to reanimate the long-buried corpse of Michelangelo, and then commissioning him to carve an ice sculpture for his back garden. Would probably cost less too.

At this stage, there are no concrete indications that Mbappe is planning to accept Al-Hilal’s astonishing proposal - although, let’s face it, pocketing vast paychecks from avaricious petro-states to compete in lackadaisical top flights is hardly beyond the lad - but the fact that he might even consider the possibility has seemingly been enough to ignite a towering inferno of outrage among hardcore Twitter stans and casual observers alike.

Ordinarily, and justifiably, when a player agrees to partake in Saudi Arabia’s charm offensive charade, the criticisms that are raised tend to err towards the moral and ethical. Take, for instance, the recent debacle involving Jordan Henderson - the Liverpool captain who has been a vocal advocate for LGBTQ rights as an ambassador for the admirable Rainbow Laces campaign, now edging ever closer to plying his trade in a country where it is still illegal to be gay. The more high-profile names who put a monetary value on their personal principles, the more that certain social practices become overlooked, and thus, normalised. This is the sportswashing way.

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But where Mbappe is concerned, the greater indignation seems to lie with the prospect of him abandoning European football, and all of its apparent supremacy, just as he enters the prime of his career.

The Frenchman turned 24 back in December. It is not the done thing to walk away from the Champions League and all of its associated acclaim for an all expenses frolic through the dunes at such an early juncture. There are unspoken etiquettes that generally prohibit such wild voluntary derailments.

Then again, Mbappe operates on a tangent all his own. Already he has won a World Cup. Were it not for the heroics of Emi Martinez and the otherworldly divinity of Lionel Messi, he would have won two. Even in defeat, he scored a hat-trick in last year’s Qatari final, and his desirability as one of, if not the, most shimmering golden goose in global football is not going to be diminished by twelve months cosplaying as the Princess Leia to the PIF’s Jabba the Hutt.

As long as he is unequivocally assured of his right to join Real next summer, he could go to Saudi Arabia, bank £600 million and still return to Europe as a 25-year-old, ready to dominate his home continent for a decade to come. On some level, he will know this, and that is exactly where the crux of his dilemma lies.

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Forget the armchair naysayers and the thrumming magnets of one’s moral compass; money and blind, messianic adoration - regrettably - talk, and sometimes they babble so loud that reason and common sense are drowned out like the squeak of a mouse beneath the din of a jackhammer.

Should Kylian Mbappe sign for Al-Hilal before the transfer window is through? No, absolutely not. But would it be a surprise to see it happen, especially given the looming broader context? Again, not in the slightest.

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