PARIS (AP) — The next few weeks are going to be hectic for Paris Saint-Germain, as it juggles a fading title defense with renewed Champions League ambitions and ongoing efforts to persuade superstars Neymar and Kylian Mbappe to sign new contracts.
This season has been complex and paradoxical for PSG.
Eight league defeats have left it three points behind leader Lille with six games left. If Lille beats Montpellier at home on Friday night, PSG will be under pressure Sunday against Saint-Etienne without the suspended Neymar.
But as things threaten to collapse domestically, they are picking up in Europe.
PSG overcame a poor Champions League group stage to knock out giants Barcelona in the Round of 16 and then defending champion Bayern Munich to reach the semifinals for the second straight season.
The euphoria of knocking out Bayern prompted PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi to boldly predict that Neymar and Mbappe will both sign new contracts. Their deals expire at the end of next season.
“Kylian and Neymar have no excuse to leave, because we have everything in place to win the Champions League now,” a beaming Al-Khelaifi told broadcaster RMC on Tuesday night, moments after Bayern’s elimination. “We’re a big team. With all respect to other sides, we’re up there with them.”
Problem is, that’s not the case in Europe, where PSG isn’t yet the big-time club it wants to become.
PSG has never won the European Cup, losing its only final last year. It has reached only three semis, with a 25-year gap in between the first and the second appearance.
Of the other semifinalists this season, only Manchester City has not won the competition. The other semi pits 2012 winner Chelsea against record 13-time champion Real Madrid.
For Mbappe, Madrid could be his next destination if he doesn’t sign again for PSG.
Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane is a huge fan of Mbappe and is reportedly keen on making him his major summer signing. It would make for a mouthwatering partnership with countryman Karim Benzema, who is in the best form of his career and edging closer toward 200 league goals and 300 overall for the club.
Zidane is often asked about Mbappe, and recently said it’s always the player who decides where he wants to go. But the former France great just happened to add that Mbappe previously said he wants to play for the Spanish giant one day.
That day might come soon, for Mbappe has sounded hesitant about penning a new deal, unlike Neymar.
“I don’t think this is even a topic anymore, I obviously feel very comfortable, at home at PSG,” Neymar told TNT Sports Brazil after Tuesday’s victory at Parc des Princes stadium in Paris. “I feel happier than before.”
Neymar’s tone is different from 2019, when Barcelona was optimistic of buying back the player it sold to PSG for a record 222 million euros ($266 million) two years earlier.
But if PSG wins the Champions League, that might actually be the catalyst for Mbappe to leave rather than stay.
Because at the age of 22, he will have achieved everything he can at the club by adding elusive European success to domestic dominance, and a World Cup.
He might feel it’s the right time to test himself at an even bigger club like Madrid, a club he visited as a teen, where demands are higher and where he could work with one of the most successful coaches of the modern era.
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