“May you go well,” Real Madrid president Florentino Perez courteously wished Kylian Mbappe, despite the Paris Saint-Germain striker putting his move to the Santiago Bernabeu on ice.
Well, setting it on fire, to be more accurate.
Perez’s ambition for the past two years has been to bring the France forward to the Spanish capital and after PSG rejected a €220 million (£189m/$260m) bid from Madrid last summer, this time around it seemed certain he would get his man.
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Mbappe, who idolised Cristiano Ronaldo growing up, was keen on the move and had agreed terms with Los Blancos, with his PSG deal set to expire at the end of June, while the Ligue 1 champions made increasingly wild bids to try and keep their man.
Eventually they convinced him - everyone has their price.
Depending on who you ask, the final three-year contract that Mbappe has signed involves both a lot of money and a lot of power within Parc des Princes. Figures and privileges Real Madrid would not be able to reach, or even want to try.
In Madrid's ‘entorno’, or surroundings, the outrage is evident.
“It is clear Mbappe has betrayed Real Madrid,” ranted El Chiringuito presenter Josep Pedrerol. “PSG have won. Qatar have won. It’s infuriating. If you are a Madrid fan you are raging, if you’re a Barca fan maybe you are celebrating. Why was he saying yes to Real Madrid for a year?”
Midfielder Fede Valverde,meanwhile, fired out tweet which, while not directly aimed at Mbappe, seemed pointed. “Being a Madrid player is a privilege that not everyone can have,” he wrote.
At the same time, one of his Barcelona counterparts is reported to have sent the team’s group chat a message saying that Mbappe’s snub was worth ‘almost a title’.
Real Madrid will, however, leave the outrage to those who have time and energy for it, and instead focus on how to move forward from here.
First, the quest for their 14th Champions League trophy, which is on the line against Liverpool in Paris on Saturday. Winning it in the French capital, Mbappe’s home, would be the first way to move on.
After that, Perez will have to decide whether he still wants to make a statement signing this summer or bide his time, following the same strategy of medium cost deals and focusing on younger players that has stood Madrid so well over the past seven to eight years.
If Madrid go big, then their final opponents Liverpool hold two aces that Perez might be interested in, when it comes to Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.
Both Liverpool wingers’ contracts expire in the summer of 2023, meaning the Reds need to renew them this summer, risk losing them for free in a year’s time, or sell them while they can still make some money.
With Diogo Jota and January arrival Luis Diaz having their best years ahead of them, Liverpool may be tempted to sell one of the two, though would prefer to keep both.
Mane has friends in Madrid and has been linked with a switch before, while Salah would be an almost ideal signing to fit in on the right flank, with Karim Benzema in the middle and Vinicius Junior on the left.
Another intriguing option can be found closer to home. There is no winger in the world who creates more chances than Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembele, who is out of contract this summer.
The club he was most closely linked to, if he does not stay at Barca, was PSG - but with Mbappe staying, they might have less cause to sign Dembele.
It would be seen as an unforgivable betrayal by Barcelona supporters if Dembele followed in Luis Figo’s footsteps by crossing the Clasico divide, but Madrid could easily pay the France international the salary he wants, which the Catalans can’t, and still make a saving on what they would have given Mbappe.
Another option would be to let Rodrygo claim the right wing spot and strengthen other areas of the team instead, following the same ‘sensible signings’ strategy they have relied on in recent years.
Aurelien Tchouameni is a target in midfield and a player that could help take over in the Casemiro position. The Monaco star would set Madrid back around €60m (£50.5m/$63.5m), a significant and wise investment, even if he is not the ‘marquee’ arrival Perez had hoped for.
With Valverde and Eduardo Camavinga already at the club, Madrid would then have a new midfield trio with the potential to one day fill the boots of the legendary Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro combination which has won three Champions League finals starting together, and are aiming for a fourth.
Madrid can console themselves that they won La Liga at a canter this year and beat Mbappe’s team PSG, reigning European champions Chelsea and Premier League winners Manchester City on the way to the Champions League final.
Benzema and Vinicius destroyed almost every side they faced in 2021-22, and will continue to thrive up front in the new campaign, with the former showing no signs of slowing down despite approaching his 35th birthday.
Madrid may decide that the best thing to do now is wait until Mbappe’s new deal expires in 2025, even if it means swallowing their pride. Perez’s calm public response has at least left this option open.
“I think he’s made the right decision, he’s young and he will have time to go to Madrid, he’ll have time to go where he wants,” said Mbappe’s PSG team-mate and former Real Madrid winger Angel di Maria. “In 2025? I know the people in Madrid are complicated, the Bernabeu can be difficult, but he has the talent to win them over.”
There are ways to smooth over what happened this past week. Staying at PSG is better than leaving for another team instead of Madrid, for example.
And spending longer in France might work to extend Mbappe’s career, compared to burning himself out physically and mentally in more demanding leagues.
Perhaps by 2025 other targets will have emerged and Mbappe will no longer appeal in the same way - although few would bet against his star continuing to rise, even if for now it’s in Paris, not Madrid.
For now, Madrid can’t let themselves dwell on the snub, even as it stings, and salt in the wound would be facing Mbappe again in the Champions League next season.
If that’s the case, Perez would want it to be as reigning kings of Europe, to show Mbappe what he chose not to be a part of.