PARIS – (AP) Amid uncertainty over his own future at Paris Saint-Germain, Kylian Mbappé has hit out at the treatment of Lionel Messi by the club and French soccer in general following the high-profile departure of the Argentina star.
Messi signed for Major League soccer franchise Inter Miami last week after rejecting a contract extension at PSG, bringing to a close a two-year spell with the French team.
Messi’s final months at PSG were marked by jeers from fans as his form dipped after he helped Argentina win the World Cup, and a suspension by the club after an unauthorized trip to Saudi Arabia.
“We’re talking about potentially the best player in the history of soccer,” Mbappé said in an interview with Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport. “It’s never good news when someone like Messi leaves.
“Personally I haven’t really understood why so many people were relieved that he was leaving. We’re talking about Messi: he should be respected but instead he didn’t get the respect he deserved in France. It’s a pity, but that’s how it went. The club will have to do what they can to replace him.”
PSG might also have to find a replacement for Mbappé soon after the 24-year-old told the club he will not take up the option of a 12-month extension on his contract, which expires at the end of next season.
The news immediately saw Mbappé linked with Real Madrid, which has long been after the French superstar and had an offer of 180 million euros ($190 million) rejected in 2021.
Madrid missed out again last year when Mbappé signed a new deal with PSG, but the French club is unlikely to risk him leaving as a free agent next year.
“I didn’t ask to be sold, nor to go to Real Madrid,” Mbappé said. “I’ve just confirmed that I don’t want to activate the extra year foreseen in the contract.
“With PSG we never talked about a renewal, but I am happy to stay here next season.”
Mbappé’s decision was likely to have been affected by another early exit from the Champions League for PSG as the Qatar-backed club’s quest to win European soccer’s top competition ended in the round of 16 for the second straight season.
PSG was knocked out by Bayern Munich this year. Last season it was eliminated by Real Madrid, which went on to win its 14th crown.
“At the top level, for a competitor like me, the aim is to win all the titles,” Mbappé said. “We knew there were shortcomings that sooner or later you end up paying for. You need to learn from your mistakes every season, to not repeat them every time – that’s not just nonsense words.
“Individually, on the other hand, I have kept myself at the top level for several years now: I want to continue to improve to always stay at the top.”
A potential deterrent to a move to Madrid, however, could be the racist abuse suffered by Vinícius Júnior, who is also Black.
While racism is by no means a problem unique to Spanish soccer, Vinícius has voiced strong concern that soccer authorities in the country are doing little to stop the abuse, leading to racism being an accepted part of the game.
Mbappé, who has sent messages of s upport to Vinícius, was also hit by racist and hateful comments on social networks following France’s loss to Argentina in the World Cup final last year.
“As players, we must all leave the field and understand we have the power to change things,” Mbappé said. “If we leave, people will understand the situation is serious. With PSG we did it against Basaksehir in the Champions League in 2020 and the game was replayed.
“Complaining is no longer enough. In 2023 we can not anymore allow a minority to ruin the pleasure of soccer. Aside from money and fame, we play exactly to give the fans the joy of watching soccer. If they treat you as a monkey, you don’t want to do it anymore. … Rules must be changed. As France captain, I will fight for this matter. We need to wake up everyone’s conscience.”