In less than three months, Dmitry Rybolovlev, the Russian billionaire owner of AS Monaco and avid art collector, has just sold two of his most beautiful showpieces. Firstly, Salvator Mundi by Leonardo de Vinci, a 500 year old piece of art, went for €385 million at a 19-minute long auction. And, of course, Kylian Mbappé, a young 18 year old trained at Monaco and transferred to PSG on 31 August for an amount reckoned to be €180m. This was after three months of secret meetings, negotiations, deliberations and somewhat underhand tactics. It is in these three months that Le Parisien have reconstructed thanks to several anonymous and, up until now, unpublished testimonies.
Antero Henrique comes on to the scene
The story starts on 2nd June, in a restaurant in Bondy, Seine-Saint-Denis, West Paris. The blinds are down and the premises, which are looked after by a friend of the Mbappé family, are closed to the public. A few hours earlier, the Portuguese and previously FC Porto-based Antero Henrique has just been officially named as Sporting Director at PSG. The very same evening, he is ready to get to work. He meets Wilfrid Mbappé for the first time – Kylian’s father – who has travelled with the Blues that evening for the friendly match against Paraguay.
The meeting has been set up through Marc Westerloppe, Director of Recruitment for PSG’s Youth Academy, and a longstanding friend of the Mbappé’s. Henrique then outlines PSG’s vision and repeats that he wants his son at PSG. He even says that Kylian is the number priority in the transfer window. The father appreciates the approach made but replies that his son’s wish was, at the time, to stay another season at ASM. Upon leaving the restaurant, Henrique says to him: “If Kylian changes his mind, PSG will always be right there.”
PSG let Mbappé in on the secret
After this initial, discreet contact, Unai Emery, on 8 June, comes out publicly to say that he wants Mbappé to join PSG, during a discussion between coaches in Bilbao. A few days later on 13 June, Henrique, accompanied by Luis Ferrer (a member of PSGs recruitment team since 2009) go to the Stade de France for the France v England friendly.
He stealthily meets Kylian Mbappé behind the scenes at the stadium for the first time. But no direct contact can be formally made without Monaco’s permission. The first green light is given on 15 June at the close of a meeting between the Mbappé family and Vadim Vasyliev, the Vice President of ASM. Over the following days, Kylian Mbappé then sees some of European’s high footballing society drop in: as well as Nasser Al-Khelaïfi, President of PSG, he sees Florentino Pérez, Pep Guardiola and Arsène Wenger, respectively the President of Real Madrid and the managers of Man City and Arsenal.
The bell finally rings out marking the holiday period and the recently called up French player took advantage, going to Spain and then the Greek islands. Meanwhile, back in Paris, nervousness went up a notch. PSG are not sure whether to send one of their representatives over, just to maintain contact. To lure the player, Parisian management pull out all the stops even from a considerable distance. Before anyone else, Kylian Mbappé learns from the very mouth of Nasser Al-Khelaïfi that two players are on the verge of signing. A certain Dani Alves and Neymar. ”If Nasser gets the team that he is talking about, it’s going to hurt,” the young Monaco forward admits to someone close to him.
Unai Emery spills the beans
It’s 7 July and several PSG representatives (Henrique, Emery, Ferrer and Westerloppe) are out in force and turn up at the Mbappé family residence, in Bondy. From this moment on, things start to get serious. Emery assures him of a starting spot. A meal and ensuing discussions go on for over three hours. Yet, going back to the city, the Parisian representatives are still not massively confident. “At that moment, you feel that PSG were only in third position in Kylian’s mind, behind Monaco and Real Madrid”, says an observer.
In the following days, Mbappé sees that the first promise has been kept: Dani Alves arrives at PSG. Returning to the Principality, he gets back on with training, on 10 July. But after a few days, he realises that the club where he was brought through the ranks are not ready to go out on a limb to keep him. Rather, senior staff at Monaco force him into the arms of Real Madrid. That’s, at least, what the perception is. A rumour of an offer of around €180m even flies over the Pyrenees.
Barcelona come out of the woodwork
Luis Ferrer, Henrique’s right hand man, is then tasked to keep up appearances with the family. A bit of a joker and a smooth operator, able to pick up on the faintest of signals, the Argentine sounds out the situation on an almost daily basis at the Mbappé home in Monaco. A systematic approach, complimented by phone calls from Westerloppe.
The operation of seduction by PSG is now made even more credible by the imminent arrival of Neymar. Seen from the outside, the transfer of the Brazilian star for €222m seems to put an end to the Mbappé saga, bearing in mind Financial Fair Play. Not for Antero Henrique, the grand architect of the Parisian transfer window.
After Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool and Real Madrid, a new rival steps into the ring. It’s none other than FC Barcelona, put under overwhelming pressure to act due to the Neymar situation. A Parisian lawyer is appointed by the Catalan club to contact the family.
Jardim pushes his player towards the exit
It’s the end of July and the relationship between Mbappé and Leonardo Jardim has hit rock bottom. The young attacker has the impression now that his coach is pushing him towards Madrid. The following weeks will confirm this. After the Trophée des champions, lost against PSG, and just one Ligue 1 game against Toulouse, at the beginning of August, Kylian Mbappé never plays again for AS Monaco. The irreparable rift has now occured. But yet the suspense regarding his future goes on. It is said that: “Kylian only gives a green light to PSG ten days before the end of the transfer window.”
Then starts the arm wrestle between Team Mbappé and the Monaco leadership, who take an exception to their star player leaving for a direct rival. However, the player, under contract until 2019, is in a strong position. Monaco really do want to sell him; and he only wants to go to Paris.
Agreement struck in the final hours
On the home straight now, Nasser Al-Khelaïfi would go at least three times to the Principality to meet Kylian and his parents and also to talk with Vadim Vasilyev. The three parties finally talk money. An agreement between the clubs takes shape on Sunday 27 August. A loan in principle with a compulsory option-to-buy clause at €180 million is tied up, to be paid next summer, an arrangement desired by both clubs.
Nothing is signed but, the day after, whilst arriving at Clairefontaine with the national team, Mbappé is, at least in his mind, a PSG player. Yet, Real and Barcelona monitor the situation closely, just in case the final negotiations hit a snag. The situation is monitored to such a degree, that the two Spanish giants leave a private jet at Bourget at the disposition of the Mbappé family and their lawyers.
After intense negotiations, concerning as much as image rights as the player’s salary (estimated at €1.5m monthly before tax) the contract is tied up 31 August in the small hours in PSG premises. The official announcement comes at 6.30pm some hours before the window closes. And so draws to the end the story that began three months earlier in a restaurant in Bondy.