Over the last decade we saw many world record breaking transfers take place in football. Notable transfers like Cristiano Ronaldo’s € 94 million move from Manchester United to Real Madrid in 2008, Gareth Bale’s € 100 million move from Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid in 2013 and Neymar Jr’s € 222 million move from F.C. Barcelona to PSG have shown us that the amount of money teams are willing to spend to acquire superstar players has only increased by massive margins. This is regardless of the uncertainty of the player’s health or success at the new club because at the end of the day these are business decisions, and bringing a superstar player to a club can yield rewards and benefits for the team in various different aspects as well. However one of the biggest talking points of the summer of 2022 has been the decision of Kylian Mbappe choosing to remain at PSG rather than accepting a transfer to Real Madrid. This decision has been pathbreaking in many ways. Firstly the amount of money he is going to be paid, secondly rejecting to play for arguably the biggest and most successful football club in history being Real Madrid who most superstars dream to play for, and thirdly a certain speculative specificity in his contract granting him certain powers and responsibilities with regard to decision making and giving him the freedom to provide inputs pertaining to the development of PSG’s athletic program. Through this article we will delve into what exactly this alleged clause is, the pro’s and cons of including clauses like these and how this may affect the sport as a whole. We will also delve into whether this mode is the future for teams to attract the best talent in the world and make a comparison with the NBA where practices like these are more common.
Kylian Mbappe rose to fame when he had a breakout performance for AS Monaco in the 2016/17 season where they managed to eliminate champions league favourites Manchester City from the champions league that year due to his stellar performance. Ever since then he has only gotten better. He completed a big move to the Parisian Club PSG for € 180 million making him the most expensive teenager in football. He then cemented himself as one of the best football players in the world and the gold standard for the next generation of footballers when he led France to their FIFA World Cup triumph in 2018. He went on to win 5 French Ligue 1 titles, and multiple other honours both individual and team. In European football It is fairly obvious and understood that if there is a player who is a once in a lifetime talent and is available in the market then teams like Real Madrid are going to come knocking on the door to acquire him, and so they did. Mbappe has been linked to Real Madrid since towards the end of 2020. They have made multiple offers to PSG to sell him to them, however PSG rejected all offers they came up with including a € 189 million bid and shunned all rumours of the transfer. Real Madrid went to the extent of offering a € 200 million bid for Mbappe in summer of 2021 but this was rejected again by PSG. Real Madrid then decided to wait until the summer of 2022 to get Mbappe on a free transfer due to his contract expiring with PSG. They went as far as to selling players In order to accumulate the funds to sign Mbappe including Sergio Ramos, Sergio Reguilon, Martin Odegaard, and Raphael Varane. This became known to be the Mbappe Fund. The summer of 2022 became the crucial period where Mbappe had to decide if he wanted to leave PSG and sign with Real Madrid or remain with PSG by signing a new contract extension with them.
Mbappe had expressed interest to leave PSG for a big transfer fee so that PSG made some money out of the transfer and could use the resources to find a viable replacement for him. However they were reluctant to accept Mbappe’s request for a transfer or Real Madrid’s transfer bids. They clearly had a different plan in mind, and rightfully so considering you’re in possession of a diamond of a player in Mbappe. As the summer of 2022 approached it was fairly obvious in everyone’s minds that Mbappe was going to complete a free transfer to Real Madrid. However PSG were determined to convince him to re-sign with them for the future.
His contract and the speculative ownership clause
Ultimately, after a lot of convincing and back and forth between his management team and the club, Kylian Mbappe shocked the world by agreeing to a 3 year extension that locked him in as a PSG player until the year 2025. Over these 3 years he is allegedly set to earn € 50 million per year which will come up to € 150 million, and in addition to this he will receive € 100 million as a signing bonus simply because he decided to remain with PSG. Obviously this is one of the biggest football transfers we have seen from a money perspective but the one unique aspect about Mbappe’s contract which arguably could have been the reason he decided to stay at PSG was the speculative ownership clause. The ownership clause of Mbappe’s contract practically makes him an owner of PSG’s football development project. This gives him power to make important managerial decisions with regard to the future development of PSG’s athletic program. This includes him deciding on future transfers, whom to sign, whom to cut, which manager to hire etc. A football player having this much power and to have a say in important decision making which is usually done by the front office and management of teams is definitely something unprecedented. This is because there is almost always a vast hierarchy of management which plays a role in running and conducting the day to day activities of football clubs. However the situation is slightly different across the Atlantic over in the United States.
The Superstar power in the NBA
The NBA is a very superstar-driven league which means that over the years there has been a shift of power from the owners/management to the players or superstars. We have seen many examples where NBA superstar players have forced their way out of teams like, Anthony Davis forcing the New Orleans Pelicans to trade him to the Los Angeles Lakers, James Harden intentionally dropping his fitness levels while demanding a trade from the Houston Rockets to the Brooklyn Nets and Kevin Durant leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder to Join the Golden State Warriors in 2016. With the NBA Superstar talents receiving power to demand a trade or choose the destination they want to be traded to, the NBA organisations value their inputs heavily and many of the organisational decisions such as which player to trade for, which young talent to select in the draft, which player to package away in a deal to land another player, or charting out plans to build a super-team. This model of giving the athletes more power when it comes to decision making, shows them that the team trusts them with their inputs and that they have faith that the player is going to aid in making business decisions with the best interests of the club in mind. This also motivates the player to elevate his performance in his respective sport as now, the success/failure of the team rests on his shoulders both on the court and to an extent, off the court as well. Yet this power can also be misused by the superstars.
Kylian Mbappe paving the way with his superstar power
Recently it came to light that Mbappe decided not to participate in the French national team’s photoshoot as he did not want to be promoting certain brands that sponsor the French national team which include betting company ‘Etclic’, fast food companies like KFC, and coca cola. He expressed his discomfort with representing these brands as Mbappe donates the money he receives from the French national football teams’ sponsors to charity, and supporting these brands might cause issues among the society about his morals. The negotiations fell through with his management team and the French national team as they couldn’t reach an agreement on the image rights of Mbappe. At present the FFF (French Football Federation equally distributes the image rights between the 23 players that are a part of the squad. Mbappe has made his intentions clear that he wants to renegotiate the image rights on behalf of all the players and to ensure that the income that the French national team generates is utilised for the development of the youth and generate more young footballing talent in France. Ultimately, the FFF has agreed to renegotiate and work to create a new set of guidelines circling around image rights that will cater to the needs of the French national team and also take into consideration the concerns expressed by the players unanimously and individually as well.  This is a recent example of how Mbappe is utilising his stardom to fight for what he believes in and also convince the teams, let alone the ‘French Footballing Federation’ to alter their old practices and methods of operating as well.
In the case of football, this concept of huge money contracts and putting players in powerful roles within the football club could be the start of a new era in football where the game is evolving to become more player friendly. There however will be questions as to whether this mode is feasible as the players who most likely are to receive such deals and positions might not have enough background knowledge or experience in dealing with transfers of players and the hiring and firing of employees like the manager. So if big money and big power contracts are the model that is going to be followed by football teams to attract star talent, then adequate vetting and safety measures do need to be implemented by the teams to ensure that bad business decision are not taken, merely because the player agreed or wants to do so. One other way the teams could ensure maximum accountability on behalf of the player would be to provide incentives or impose penalties. They can bring in measures to ensure loyalty to the team that is paying him the money so that the player who has signed a mega contract or has been given more powers does not maliciously or surreptitiously use his power to leverage the team to agree to a transfer offer for him brought in by another team in case he is not happy with the situation at his present team. However this transfer of Mbappe has now set precedent that NBA-esque contracts and deals can be signed in football as well and soon we are going to see a shift from football being a sport which was dominated by the teams and owners to become a sport that will be dominated by the superstar talents. This is primarily because of the rise of social media and the false narrative that has been created which is “in order to be great or have a legacy, you have to win championships and trophies, otherwise you will go unrecognised.”
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