In terms of football’s hot property there are few more scorching that Kylian Mbappe right now.
Still only 22 and with a fearsome goal record and World Cup winners medal already to his name, the Paris Saint-Germain striker is the poster boy for European football, the youthful face who will likely be the one to fill the void that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo leave when they hang up their boots.
From a football standpoint he is the kind of player that any manager in the world would want as part of their squad, even Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp would surely covet his services so, with the chance to add one of the world’s best to an already potent arsenal of attacking weaponry a tremendously exciting prospect.
In France, national media outlet Canal+ have stated that Klopp is ‘seriously pressing Mbappe’s entourage’ over a switch to Anfield.
Mbappe has 18 months left on his deal at PSG and the French champions face the prospect of losing their most prized asset for nothing when the summer of 2022 arrives and may have to decide whether to cash in while they can.
Money likely won’t be a motivating factor in PSG moving Mbappe on, the Qatari backed team is not short on cash despite the financial crisis that has taken some French clubs to the brink after the collapse of their TV deal with Mediapro.
The Mediapro deal, signed back in 2018, was expected to give Ligue 1 the financial boost it needed to finally compete with the Premier League, the Bundesliga and La Liga. A multi-year £3bn contract was signed that would end up stinging French clubs after the coronavirus pandemic caused Mediapro to miss two payments and end up having their deal terminated.
Ligue 1 clubs are now facing the prospect of losing their star players for less than their market value in a bid to generate cash in the short term. What that means is a reduction in quality of the league and creates questions for the likes of Mbappe as to whether his career is best suited to be playing for a big club in an ailing league.
Mbappe the brand as well as Mbappe the footballer will have to be taken into account.
Nike and Mbappe have become aligned through the US sportswear giants tie-in with PSG, Nike using their Air Jordan brand to take the club’s merchandise into different demographics, monetising the power of Paris as a lifestyle brand.
PSG’s new avenue in terms of merchandise will likely be a lucrative link up for Nike and the need for on pitch success to drive that partnership forward isn’t as vital as it may be for some clubs. Mbappe and Neymar Jr are very much part of their marketing strategy, more so than PSG lifting the Ligue 1 title again.
But Nike now see value in their new marriage with Liverpool, a multi-year deal worth £30m per year but one, thanks to 20 per cent royalties to the Reds on the sale of licensed merchandise, could reach as much as £75m per year.
Access to a Nike client list that includes tennis ace Serena Williams, rap star Drake and basketball legend LeBron James also offers the chance to reach new markets.
Liverpool fan James bought a minority two per cent, £4.7m stake in the Reds back in 2011, the 36-year-old Los Angeles Lakers star seeing a huge return on that investment after the club’s sustained growth on and off the field under Fenway Sports Group during the last decade.
There was much excitement this month when Mbappe and James swapped their Instagram profile pictures with each other. A fairly innocent and throwaway thing you may feel, but when the two are closely aligned with one brand then you can rest assured it wasn’t without having a desired effect.
Mbappe and James are Nike’s ‘Chosen 2’. A combined following of 122m on Instagram a marketeers dream.
They are both pushing new shoe lines in their respective fields for Nike, both with the ‘Chosen 2’ moniker attached.
Both came from humble beginnings, James from Akron, Ohio, Mbappe from the Bondy suburb of Paris.
“LeBron is a unique champion and I have the deepest respect for him, on but also off the court,” Mbappé said.
“He is an inspiration to me. From Akron to Paris, we are both taking action to move the lines in our society and offer a better world to the younger generation. I truly hope our common message will have a strong social impact and this is just the beginning of our stories.
“I want to inspire and carry this young generation, to show them everything is possible. I feel that this is our responsibility at this moment in time – to be vocal, to pave the way, to be the voice of the unheard – and perhaps even be role models they can look up to.”
James did the whole ‘hometown hero’ thing with the Cleveland Cavaliers, helping them deliver a first ever NBA Championship, ending the city of Cleveland’s 52-year wait for a professional team in the city to win a national title. James eventually left in pursuit of more success in LA.
Mbappe has delivered league titles at Paris but it’s hard to imagine PSG being able to piece together a squad around him and Neymar to deliver a Champions League title in the wake of such financial turmoil in French football. They could afford the talent and have been linked with Lionel Messi as the Barca star becomes embroiled in his own contract saga but could they attract the best players to a league that will may longer be on the level with Europe’s best?
Mbappe may need to move in order to realise his potential and get his hands on the biggest trophy available on the continent, and having a close relationship with James and seeing the moves he has made suggests a switch away from Paris may be necessary for his own growth.
Then there is the small fact that James is a Reds fan and minority shareholder, Liverpool were the Champions League winners in 2019, the Premier League winners in 2020 and have one of the most revered managers in the game.
All signs point to Anfield.
But should PSG decide to cash in then it does pose the question on how FSG, an ownership who do not position themselves as a club to pay for a player at their high value, preferring to invest before a steep rise in stock, would bankroll such a deal.
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It would be breaking from the norm for FSG to sanction the £200m that Mbappe is valued at, and with the financial implications of the coronavirus pandemic set to continue to impact football for the coming seasons there would be even more scrutiny about a bigger spend.
Last month reports in the Portuguese media pointed to Manchester United’s shirt sponsors Chevrolet possibly being willing to aid a return for 36-year-old Ronaldo to Old Trafford, the Juventus star still commanding enormous global appeal and operating at the elite level despite his advancing years.
Such a move would be a great marketing ploy for Chevrolet, but could the same be utilised with Nike?
Maybe they would feel that by in some way aiding the move for Mbappe financially, through an enhanced sponsorship, may be beneficial to club, player and brand and align the French striker even more closely with James. It wouldn’t be the first time such methods have been adopted, a look at Wayne Rooney’s switch to Derby County with the help of 32 Red points to that fact.
The door does seem more open for Liverpool than it has in the past for making a move for the very best in Europe given the more austere approach Real Madrid and Barcelona will have to adopt in the face of huge debt. Both clubs have traditionally been the end destination for players who have outgrown their own market.
The football landscape has changed, maybe not forever but it could be for long enough for Liverpool to steal a march on their rivals.