Kylian Mbappe and Neymar: The PSG duo’s last shot at Champions League glory together?
They came so close, but in the end the pair cut two distraught figures in the dugout of the Estadio da Luz as Bayern Munich lifted the European Cup for a sixth time on August 23 last year. Now, some nine months later, are Kylian Mbappe and Neymar on the brink of going their separate ways if Paris Saint-Germain end the season without the Champions League once more?
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It all began in August 2017 for Kylian Mbappe and Neymar at PSG. At the start of that month, Neymar joined from Barcelona for a world-record fee, and by the end of it Mbappe joined him – initially on loan from Monaco.
As expected the double coup guided PSG to a domestic clean sweep – Ligue 1, Coupe de France and the Coupe de la Ligue – but the treble only glossed over their disappointment in Europe, a last-16 exit to Real Madrid. 5-2 on aggregate.
That was Real’s year, in what was Cristiano Ronaldo’s final season at Madrid, meaning the Mbappe-Neymar partnership had to wait another season to deliver what their owners craved the most.
But once again, it was a last-16 departure from the Champions League, this time to Manchester United and specifically a Marcus Rashford penalty in the 94th minute.
Winning Ligue 1 did little to lift the spirits, and come the next season – looking to make it third time lucky – Mbappe and Neymar fell at the final hurdle in Europe as PSG lost to Bayern Munich 1-0 in the final last August. Cue the tears.
Neymar and Kylian Mbappe after the UCL 2020 final loss to Bayern Munich
Image credit: Getty Images
Transfer gossip had followed Mbappe and Neymar during their stint in Paris, but that defeat only strengthened the latter’s desire to stay and win the Champions League.
"I am staying at PSG next season," Neymar told PSG Le Mag. "I remain and with the ambition to return to the final of the Champions League, this time to win it. I like this idea of doing everything to leave my name in the history books of my club."
A man on a mission, Neymar has orchestrated PSG’s run to the semi-finals this season, pulling the strings while Mbappe has been grabbing the goals – a hat-trick at the Nou Camp, one in the return leg against Barcelona in Paris, and then two in Munich before they knocked holders Bayern out in the quarter-final second leg.
Now Mbappe and Neymar want to finish the job, but they may well have met their match. With Barcelona and Bayern dealt with, it is Manchester City who could well prove too difficult an obstacle for PSG to overcome.
City’s slender 2-1 lead going into Tuesday’s second leg gives them the advantage, but PSG head to Manchester knowing their away results at Barcelona (4-1) and Bayern (3-2) would be enough to help them reach the final again. A tall order, but there is some hope, particularly if Mbappe is passed fit having suffered a calf issue which ruled him out of the weekend’s win over Lens.
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Should PSG lose, however, and it could well be the end of the Mbappe-Neymar partnership as we know it. A fourth Champions League disappointment could be too much to bear, and offers elsewhere could be too good to turn down.
Mbappe, meanwhile, is regularly linked with Real Madrid, with the Frenchman’s future seemingly entwined with that of Erling Haaland and Lionel Messi.
Haaland’s representatives have reportedly been on a European tour as the Borussia Dortmund forward weighs up his next move, while Messi’s contract at Barcelona expires in the summer – whether he extends or not could depend on what new president Joan Laporta can offer by way of a new deal, so too new players through the door.
Erling Haaland of Borussia Dortmund celebrates scoring his winning goal to the 0:2 during the Bundesliga match between VfL Wolfsburg and Borussia Dortmund at the Volkswagen Arena on April 24, 2021 in Wolfsburg
This merry-go-round of Europe’s elite strikers – and here it is worth mentioning that transfers for Harry Kane, Cristiano Ronaldo and even Robert Lewandowski have all been mooted too – may never take off, but it will be fascinating to see which player or club makes the first move.
And this could all be dependent on where the Champions League ends up. Whoever wins, it could spark the other clubs into action. A Manchester City win may prompt Real to push for Mbappe, Barca for Haaland or Neymar, and PSG for Messi.
A Real or Chelsea win is likely to have a similar effect, but a PSG triumph – which would have to feature a City turnaround then victory over Chelsea or Real – could well convince Mbappe and Neymar to stay.
One winners’ medal would be exceptional - the desire to defend it could persuade them to remain in Paris and dance on.