Uncertainty over the future of Kylian Mbappe hangs over French football ahead of the new Ligue 1 season, which starts this weekend.
The Paris Saint-Germain superstar has won France’s Player of the Year award four times in a row and been Ligue 1’s top scorer in five straight seasons, but his contract dispute with the champion has dominated headlines all summer.
Mbappe has refused to sign an extension to his PSG deal, meaning he can leave for free next year, with Real Madrid long seen as his preferred destination.
PSG want to sell him now and bring in a significant transfer fee for a player who cost 180 million euros (198m USD) from Monaco in 2017.
A stand-off has ensued, and for now, Mbappe remains in Paris but has been reduced to training apart from the first team.
“We can’t let the best player in the world today leave for free. It’s impossible,” said the Qatar-owned club’s president, Nasser al-Khelaifi, last month.
The situation is hardly ideal for PSG’s new coach, with Luis Enrique having been appointed to succeed Christophe Galtier.
Regardless of what happens with Mbappe, PSG has a new look after limping to the title in the last campaign and failing to impress in Europe.
Lionel Messi has gone, so has Sergio Ramos. It needed attacking reinforcements even if Mbappe stays, and Portugal striker Goncalo Ramos has joined from Benfica.
The arrivals of Lucas Hernandez, Milan Skriniar, Manuel Ugarte, Lee Kang-in and Marco Asensio mean they look stronger across the pitch.
“I could have stayed at Bayern Munich, but the interest PSG showed in me, their ambition and the project they are trying to put in place for the future convinced me to come,” Hernandez told sports daily L’Equipe.
PSG begins as overwhelming favourites to win a 10th title in 12 years, but its domestic rivals might sense their chance if Mbappe moves on.
The French football landscape is changing.
Ligue 1 has been reduced to 18 clubs. The move, after over two decades with 20 teams in the top flight, has been made with the aim of helping French clubs become more competitive in Europe by having fewer league games.
Despite that, and despite seeing Messi depart and Mbappe maybe follow, the French league is hoping an upcoming auction for the next broadcast deal will allow it to make far more money than it does currently, especially for international rights.
League executives want their competition to be able to rival those in England, Spain, Germany and Italy for international popularity, but the growing trend of multi-club ownership threatens to turn several French sides into feeder teams.
Strasbourg has been taken over by BlueCo, the US-led consortium that owns Chelsea.
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“Although there was no financial urgency for us to do so, we were conscious that we had gone as far as we could with our existing model,” said Strasbourg’s president, Marc Keller.
He refutes any suggestion that Strasbourg, French champion in 1979, will become a mere feeder team, and they have appointed former Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira as coach.
Lorient is now 40 per cent owned by Bill Foley, the American owner of Premier League club Bournemouth.
The Brittany side has made headlines by signing Benjamin Mendy following his acquittal in England of sex offences.
Once the dominant French team, uncertainty surrounds Lyon’s prospects in their first full campaign since American businessman John Textor bought the club.
Textor also owns Brazilian side Botafogo and Belgian club Molenbeek and holds a significant share in Crystal Palace.
However, his failure to convince the DNCG, French football’s financial watchdog, of the soundness of his spending plans means a cap has been imposed on their wage bill.
They have not been able to significantly strengthen a squad that finished seventh last season, outside the European places.
Last season’s runner-up Lens lost captain Seko Fofana to Saudi Arabia and top scorer Lois Openda to RB Leipzig but will hope to remain competitive even with the addition of Champions League football.
Marseille, now with former Valencia coach Marcelino in charge, look potentially the best placed to challenge PSG after making some ambitious signings.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang could be a big hit if he rediscovers the prolific form he showed earlier in his career.
Rennes and Lille will aim to once again challenge towards the summit while Monaco and Ineos-owned Nice will hope new coaches can help them improve on disappointing last campaigns.
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