New year, same him? Kylian Mbappe has welcomed 2022 with open arms; to the surprise of many at the club, the Paris Saint-Germain striker arrived a day early to training after a brief Christmas break. Long rumoured to be joining Real Madrid when his contract expires this summer, he nevertheless arrived the Camp des Loges (PSG's training ground) on Friday on his own for a session when everyone, apart from the South American internationals, was due to return on Saturday.
It's clear he is refreshed, motivated and hungry; after all, the French international knows that this is, without a doubt, the most important 12 months of his career to date. It's a year in which he could win his first Champions League at PSG and, with France, his second World Cup, a year in which he could also change clubs, set more records and become even better, bigger and more successful.
At the halfway stage of the French domestic season, Mbappe's already scored 18 goals in all competitions, including one four-goal game (for France, vs. Kazakhstan), one hat-trick (for PSG, vs. Vannes in the Coupe de France) and four braces. He has been the boss of this PSG team despite the arrival of Lionel Messi and the presence of Neymar, carrying it through thick and thin, and he's committed to doing it until his last day there, whenever that might be.
And there is the million-dollar question at the dawn of the new year: when is his last day at the Parc des Princes? Since 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1, he has been free to sign a pre-contract agreement with any club he wants.
So: new year, new club then?
Sources tell ESPN FC that nothing has been agreed or signed between Mbappe and Real Madrid, as the 23-year-old is focused on finishing the season in the best way possible. However, it's no secret that Real Madrid president Florentino Perez and Kylian's father, Wilfried Mbappe, have a close relationship going back over a decade. Ever since Real identified Mbappe as the "next big thing" back when he was just 11, they have been in constant contact. Mbappe even spent time training with the Spanish giant's youth teams when he was younger. Sources have told ESPN FC that for both parties, it was only a matter of time before the French prodigy would wear the famous white shirt. Not if, but when. Last summer was very close, of course, and it is very likely that it will happen this summer.
In Paris, though, there is still a little bit of hope and optimism. "Where there is hope, there is life," as the quote says, so they will keep hoping. The conversation is open between the French club and the Mbappe family. PSG have put a contract extension on the table, offering the highest wage package at the club (even bigger than Neymar and Messi) and promises of a very competitive team to come, pledging more big signings in the summer. (Players like Franck Kessie, Paul Pogba, Karim Adeyemi, Antonio Rudiger and Ousmane Dembele are on the club's shortlist.)
However, there's another famous quote: "It's the hope that kills you." The French club don't know what will happen, but for now they can count on him being there and performing to his peak over the next six months, and the club has a lot to achieve.
Sources tell ESPN that Mbappe had a long conversation with PSG's sporting director, Leonardo, on Friday after his early arrival to the training ground. What they discussed has broadly stayed private so far -- it could have been about his future, his holidays, the comic book he just released or some lighter chat about New Year's resolutions -- but the No. 7 did stress that he wanted to win everything in 2022 and do even better than that in the first part of the season.
Fresh rumours about Real Madrid making a €50 million bid this month, in order to bring him to LaLiga during the 2021-22 season, have not fazed Mbappe either. The offer has not arrived, for one, and PSG, who would reject it anyway, don't think that Real Madrid would do it a month before they face each other in the Champions League. More importantly, Mbappe would not accept it; he's not going to leave in January. He doesn't want to leave now, even for Real Madrid, and is highly focused on the second part of the season.
Mbappe is never satisfied. He always wants more. He now has Real Madrid (funnily enough) in his sights in the Champions League last-16: their first leg is Feb. 15. He wants to win the Champions League and avenge the final PSG lost to Bayern Munich, as well as the disappointing semifinal defeat to Manchester City, that ended their runs in the past two years. He also tells his teammates he wants to finish as the top scorer in the competition and in Ligue 1, as well as claim the title for most assists in the French top flight.
How is he planning on accomplishing it all? Mbappe's reportedly stepped up his efforts to stay as fit as possible all season long and avoid experiencing a similar situation as last season, when an injury prevented him from being fit for the Champions League semifinal against City at the Etihad, which saw PSG being knocked out.
And then, there is Qatar 2022. New year, new World Cup?
The Euro defeat still lingers for Mbappe. He missed France's last penalty in the shootout against Switzerland in the last-16, and he felt that he was made out to be scapegoat for that bitter defeat. The fact that he didn't score a single goal in the tournament was disappointing for a player of his status. His partnership with Karim Benzema is much stronger and efficient now than it was at the Euros -- which marked Benzema's first national team appearances since 2015 after a long exile -- and France will be among the favourites once again. By then, it's plausible that Mbappe could be a Real Madrid star with Benzema too.
After a peaceful and relaxing break for Christmas and New Year during which he focused on his family and getting ready for 2022, Mbappe is roaring to go. His hat trick against amateurs Vannes, who play in the fourth division, in the Coupe de France on Monday night, was the perfect start to the year. There will be much bigger games and much tougher opponents, but he started the year as he meant to go on: scoring goal for fun. Now comes the added fun of figuring out where he'll be playing next season.