Speaking to L’Équipe, Kylian Mbappé breaks his silence over his failed move to Real Madrid, his performances at EURO 2020, feuds with Neymar and Olivier Giroud and much more.
Since the start of the season, PSG’s spectacular recruitment hasn’t translated into great performances, notably in the connection between the “MNM” trio.
For starters, you have to underline that it was an amazing window. We filled in a lot of gaps. We have a very competitive team, which is ready to compete for every trophy. Over the August-September period we had players coming back late and arriving injured. Lots of little problems made it so that we weren’t all in form at the right time. Against Manchester City, it was the first that that we were all there playing at a decent level, even if we’re not at the peak of our form yet. Beating City is a catalyst to get this season going [the interview was carried out before PSG’s loss to Rennes over the weekend].
When you see this squad, do you feel that excitement as well?
Of course! We’re all excited, we shouldn’t trivialise it. We’ve only been talking about Messi but we’ve brought in some great players. I’ve always said I wanted to play with great players, so this year I’ve certainly got that. Now, it’s up to us to bring their ingredients to the table, put a little water in their wine to help this team so that the collective aspect comes out in order to win trophies.
What do you mean by “put a little water in their wine”?
When you only play with great players, you have to make concessions. You’re not the only big player. It’s not you and the others anymore, it’s everyone all together. Because all we want to do is win.
Does that mean that, in a match like the one against City, you find it easier to track back than if Messi wasn’t there?
Of course. When you have Messi in your team, you know that he has to do a bit less in order to have some fuel left in the tank to be more clear-headed to score. So if you have to go back, that’s what you do. It’s not an issue, there’s an established hierarchy. I’m happy to run when Messi’s walking, it’s not an issue! Come on, it’s Messi [smiles]!
Ten days ago, you were reported to have said about Neymar, on the second goal against Montpellier, “This bum, he never passes to me!”. Are those your words?
Yes, yes, I said it. Now these are things which happen all the time in football. It just needs to be something that doesn’t linger. That’s why, right after, given how it blew up, I spoke to him about it. We already had a few exchanges like that in the past and it will continue, because we want to win, but there shouldn’t be a certain resentment. There isn’t any here at all because I respect the player and the man, and I admire what he is. But that’s it, I wasn’t happy with a pass. One day it happened to me too, I didn’t pass it and he wasn’t happy. But there’s no issue.
What’s it like to play alongside Messi? You must have imagined it…
No! I never imagined him coming here! He’s one of the rare players who I put in the “impossible-for-me-to-play-with” category. For me, he was never going to leave Barcelona. I am savouring every moment alongside him. You can’t forget that it remains a privilege. He’s someone who loves football. He speaks with everyone, he’s trying to integrate in his own way, even if he is a bit shy. But he’s not shy on the pitch [laughs].
Have you ever had this feeling with other players?
Neymar, a bit, when he arrived. He was really extraordinary. But Messi is something else. It’s amazing to think that the only other club shirt he’s worn, other than Barcelona, is PSG. We have to realise that this is something extraordinary.
Your situation was the saga of the summer. At the start of the summer, you told PSG that you didn’t want to extend. Why?
At the start, I asked for some time to reflect. Before the Euros, I told the club that I didn’t want to renew, and after the Euros I said I wanted to leave. My ambition was really for everyone to move forward hand in hand, the selling club, the buying club and me. That we work out the best deal possible and go out through the front door. I also wanted to leave my club the time to find a replacement. That everyone would be happy and that I could go on my merry way.
Was the idea also to avoid leaving on a free?
Also that, yes. But the club decided not to sell me. I was OK with that. I kept playing for the whole month of August and was putting in good performances. I don’t have an issue with that, I’m still at a big team and in a place where I’ve been happy for four years.
Did you not think about clashing with the club? Other players have done so.
No, because that would have been ungrateful. It wouldn’t have been appreciative towards a club that welcome me at 18 and gave me a lot over four years. And then I always want to be playing, to show that I’m a top player, that nothing fazes me, even a failed transfer, and that I can make the difference up until the final day.
With the transfer window, and notably Messi’s arrival, did you ever think that it might be worth staying?
No, because I don’t make decisions on sudden impulses. I had made my decisions and I had thought long and hard about it.
Where you disappointed to stay?
At the time, a bit. When your ambition is to leave and you stay, you’re not happy about it. But I quickly moved on. Unfortunately I got injured while on international duty. I came back quickly, I had the time to mourn over it while there weren’t any matches. When I came back, I scored and I performed well once again.
How did it feel to be booed at the Parc des Princes? Were you hurt by it?
I took the issue in a different way. I told myself that in their position, I would have booed as well. In this transfer, who knew what? We heard a lot of things. I didn’t say to myself, “After all I’ve done, they boo me”, no, I took it as a sign of affection. They didn’t want me to leave, that means I am more important. I was clear with myself over this situation.
When you say leave, are you talking about Real Madrid?
Of course. Real made an offer [L’Équipe add that multiple were made, even]. When I say that lots of things were heard, I’m talking about something else – people said that I turned down six or seven renewal offers, no way! People were saying that I didn’t want to talk to Leonardo, even though it’s the president [Nasser Al-Khelaifi] who wanted to take things over. When I’m told to speak with the president, I’m not going to say no. People were saying I was planning on messing around in the dressing room – again, not at all.
Nasser Al-Khelaifi and Leonardo spoke about you, notably at Lionel Messi’s unveiling. How did you experience that?
When your president says in front of the entire world that you’re not going to leave, nor leave on a free… at the time, I was a bit worried, I’m not going to lie. I said to myself, if I’m not leaving on a free, what’s going to happen to me? After that, you distance yourself and tell yourself that it’s their way of showing their attachment. It means that the club likes me and won’t let me leave.
Specifically, why did you want to leave?
I thought that my adventure [with PSG] was over. I wanted to discover something else. I’d been in the French league six or seven years. I’ve given what I tried to at Paris and I think I’ve done it well. To arrive at 18 post-youth development and do everything I have, I think that’s something remarkable. But everyone is free to draw the conclusions they want but that’s my assessment. Leaving was the logical next step.
Did you want to leave because it was Real or would it have been possible elsewhere?
No, I am attached to Paris, and if I had left this summer it would have only been for Real.
Where are you at now, five weeks after the end of the transfer window?
I stayed and I’m really happy. At no point during the season will you hear behaviour along the lines of “you didn’t let me leave, I’m going to take it easy”. I have too much love for football and too much respect for the club and for myself, to take it easy even for one game. With regard to my situation, we haven’t been discussing a renewal for a month and a half, two months, since I said I wanted to leave.
So that’s it, you’re going to leave?
I’ve been in football long enough now to know that yesterday’s truth is not necessarily today’s, nor tomorrow’s. If I was told that Messi was going to play at PSG, I wouldn’t have believed it, so you never know what’s going to happen.
You realise that by saying that, Leonardo and Al-Khelaifi are going to come back into the fray?
I think that most of all, I needed to explain myself. I had to put an end to the silence, and I said that I would do it. I owed it to the supporters, to football fans and those who read me. I couldn’t speak over the summer, that wasn’t possible. Now the summer is over, I had to clarify things, and I think now is the right time.
We’re still under the impression that you’ve always had a plan, that you won’t deviate from easily.
That’s a label I’ve been given that I’d like to get rid of. That of the kind of guy that controls his career plan. As if in football you could say, “this year I’ll do this, that year I’ll do that”. Every player – big, small or amateur – has aspirations and I’m not an exception. I don’t like this label of a guy who follows his plan in a blinkered way, stubbornly. No, a career is not that straightforward.
What could make you stay at Paris?
We’re far from it, seeing as I wanted to leave this summer. I’m not going to act like a hypocrite and send out a plea, like: “Oh, I don’t know”. This summer my ambition was clear, I wanted to leave and put the club in the best circumstances to bring in my replacement. Right now, my future is not my priority. I’ve already wasted a lot of energy this summer, it’s draining.
How do you analyse the failure at the Euros?
You can do all the analysis that you want, there is one point where we all agree: we completely messed up. When you are knocked out in the Round of 16 against an opponent viewed as inferior to you, when you are winning 3-1 in the 80th minute…
Was your missed penalty the low point of your career?
Yes… I have also lost a Champions’ League final. This was a Round of 16 match, but it is true, it is the low point. The holidays helped me to move on, because it is difficult to start all over again straight away after such a series of events.
Did the row with Olivier Giroud result to a breakdown in collective spirit?
It dragged on, because people dragged it on. I am going to tell you the truth: that night, I was enraged, but two days later, I was not thinking about it anymore. I had it out with him, I told him what I had to say, and afterwards it was over. Certainly it dragged on in terms of the media, people, there was always this shadow over the head of the team, but it was not a problem for us. I had a difference of opinion, yes, that played out in public because it began in public.
You came to speak about it though in a press conference five days later…
Because it started in public, it had to end in public, it is simple. But I do not have any problem with him, I wish him the best, I see that he has started well with Milan. If he comes back to the French national team, I will welcome him with open arms. He was very close to breaking Thierry Henry’s record, it would be a shame if he was not given this possibility.
The fact that you have won the 2018 World Cup and other trophies, has it made you more difficult to manage collectively?
No, because we really were hungry to win. We knew that we were in a period where we could really impose a level of domination, we were hungry for victory. And then we were refreshed: it was not the same 23 players, there were players who hadn’t won anything, there was the return of Karim (Benzema): we were hungry, really.
When Benzema came back, did you say to yourselves that you were going to be stronger, or that the coach was worried?
I have always said that great players are made to play together. At club level, I play with Messi and Neymar, and when Karim came back, I said to myself: “Sweet, this is an additional weapon for us.” Aside from that, it is up to the coach to tell you what brought about his return, but he, he did his job, he finished the tournament as our top scorer (4 goals).
Your Euros, where you were involved in 5 of the 7 goals, is seen as a disappointment. How do you feel, personally?
There are no longer the same expectations. Three years before, the story with Olivier Giroud might not have happened, and three years before that, I would not have been asked to win the World Cup. But I understand everything around the sporting world now: if you are not good, you accept what people say, there you go. You just have to look at yourself in the mirror: I was not as good as I should have been, I accept it, and I live with this failure, because it will serve me well.
Does the analysis of “we were 10 minutes away” work into your thinking?
Yes, because three loads of nothing would have seen us into the quarter-finals. No, because there were cracks. We were more vulnerable. Before, you have to get up at the right time to score a goal against us. Now, we concede, goals… The Swiss, at the Euros, attacked us immediately. 2 years ago, would they have attacked us like that?
Have you ever, out of frustration or anger, thought about taking a break from the French national team?
I have always placed the French national team above everything and I will always put it above everything. I have never taken a single Euro to play for the French national team and I will always play for my national team for free. Above all, I never wanted to be problem. But from the moment where I felt like that I was starting to become a problem and that people felt I was a problem… The most important thing is the French national team and if the French national team is happier without me, it is like that.
Do you really feel like you are a problem?
That is what I was made to feel and that is what I felt. I received the message, that my ego was what made us lose, that I wanted to take up too much space, and that without me, therefore, we might have won.
How far did you take this thinking?
I met with the president, Le Graët, and we had exchanges.
Everyone knows, he publicised it…
That, I did not understand. He wanted to meet me straight after the Euros, I said to him that I was going on holidays and we met up when I came back. It was something confidential, and when that came out, no, I did not understand it. I don’t hold it against him, I think he had his reasons, but I did not complain over a penalty, that is not true. What I went to complain to him about was that I was insulted and called a “monkey” for missing a penalty. That is not the same thing. I will never complain about a penalty: the penalty, I was the one who missed it.
Did you tell him of your intention to stop playing for the French national team?
No, we exchanged on whether I was a problem or not for the national team. I have never wanted to be a problem and I would never want to be a problem for the national team.
Did you talk about that with Didier Deschamps?
No, not especially. With the coach, we speak about play, the sporting side.
But also the sporting side…
Yes, but the president wanted to see me, so I spoke with him about it. If the coach wants to talk to me about it, I will do so with him, but it is over now, it is behind me. I have so much love for the French national team that I abstract from it all. What shocked me, again, was being called a monkey for the penalty. That is what I wanted support around, not because I took my penalty to the left and Sommer stopped it: that, that is on me, that is my foot that did that.
But surely you could have had more support on the pitch that day…
I could have, I agree, but I would have never gone to demand it, it is not the same thing. Of course that would have been nice, but I would never go ask for support on something that I messed up. You mustn’t look at things in too somber a manner: in the heat of the moment, everyone is disappointed about being eliminated. In the dressing room, later on, the players came to see me.
In England, after their misses in the penalty shootout in the final, Saka, Rashford and Sancho were applauded following their return to the stadiums in the Premier League…
I was booed in all of the stadiums in France (laughs). Aside from that, there was not just that, there was also the transfer, but the reality is that I was booed in all the stadiums yes.
The World Cup in Qatar is less than 14 months away. How do you look at this from an aims standpoint?
We saw everything that needed to be done at the 2018 World Cup, and nearly everything that didn’t need to be done at the Euros. It is up to us to take the right conclusions, to get our heads screwed back on and push on for something greater.
Is the dynamic around Les Bleus at the moment a bit negative?
It is less positive, we can say. Negative is a bit too much. We need to find the way of the collective again, but also our performances, because we are less good. We also need key victories: if we win the Nations League for example, that will put us on a positive path. Beating Belgium and Italy or Spain, that would be a strong message. At the start, we said to ourselves that this was just a friendly tournament, and then when you see all the recognition around it, the publicity around Portugal’s win (in 2019), you say to yourself, ok, we are going to play for it too.
On Thursday, in Turin, it will be your 50th cap, at the age of 22…
It is not bad (smiles)…
Do you feel that people remember to often that you have 50 caps and not often enough that you are just 22?
No. When it suits, I am 22 and when it suits, I have 50 caps. I think people play a bit on both sides. It doesn’t count for much, it is the pitch that interests me, but I have always liked numbers, of course. The record is Thuram, no? 142 caps, that’s huge, but there are a lot of matches, now, that could come quickly (smiles). I touch wood.
At 22, how do you navigate when you meet with legends of football – like when Pelé called you in 2018?
The child in me comes out, my football geek side. They are extraordinary moments. When I met Pelé, but also other legends at a ceremony, I am like a kid. I take my little brother and friends to also take photos. I want them to share these exceptional moments with me. We have to enjoy life!
What is your relationship like with your little brother Ethan (14), who has just signed a youth contract with PSG and who could walk in your footsteps?
I tell him: “stay calm!” But he is calm. I am the older one! It is the story of life but he is completely different to me, whether that is in his attitude, his character, his game. He needs to follow his path. But he will have something that I did not have: the pressure of a name. He will have to make a name for himself through his first name. The problem is that we have a similar face and people think we are the same!
How did you cope with the pressure when you were starting out professionally at around the age of 17?
My brother will have different pressure. For me, it was the pressure of a match, a “positive” pressure. Ethan will surely deal with a more “negative” pressure, of the kind: “You are Kylian’s brother.” Me, I had the pressure of being on the big stage quickly. He will have to face a certain excess. My role is also to help him follow his path. I do not want him in my footsteps whilst also wishing him the best.
With your life, your achievements, your status, do you still love playing as much?
I think I love it even more. I lived football like a job more before, when I was in the youth academy, than now as a professional. At Monaco, there was school and all the responsibilities that came with it. Now, all I do is play football. The pitch remains my central stage, and the weekend, nobody bothers me when I watch the other matches.
How many do you watch?
I watch nearly all of Ligue 1. I need to see my opponents. I know nearly all the players. I watch the multiplex, the matches at 17:00. I was actually caught out by the new schedule of the new broadcaster and the matches which went from 21:00 to 20:45 on Sunday night. I watch also all the big matches abroad.
Which players have caught your eye recently?
There are quite a few. I am following OGC Nice closely. And (Amine) Gouiri, he is really not bad! He has imposed himself. He already did a good season last year and he is in the process of confirming it. Rayan Cherki is also a wonderful talent. He could develop this season. Reims also have a lot of promising young talents, wingers who break the lines. Aside from that, there are players who I don’t think are “wow” on TV. And then when I come up against them on the pitch, in real life, I say to myself: “Wow, they are pretty good!”
Are you still disappointed to have not been involved at the Olympics in Tokyo this summer?
It was an aim. And my legs were quickly cut from underneath me. But the 2024 Olympics will be a priority for me. Even if it means including it in my contract, I will not shy away from that. I know where I will be spending a part of my 2024 summer. These Olympics are in France, they are the centenary in Paris. I have always dreamed about that! The Olympics are the Holy Grail of sport. It is not the biggest competition in terms of the level of football but it is something incredible when you love sport.
How did you react to the performances of the team this year (eliminated at the Group Stage):
I was sad. It was really a shame. I have respect for all the players who were there but it seemed like there was a boycott from the clubs. Honestly, I admire the volleyball players, the basketball players, the handball players, boys and girls. They went to get Gold. They brought honour upon France. I hope to experience that and achieve the same thing in 2024.