Seven years and 11 trophies, but no Champions League: Has Kylian Mbappé’s time at Paris Saint-Germain been a success?

Kylian Mbappé arrived at Paris Saint-Germain in 2017 as a baby-faced 19-year-old, carrying the weighty tags of being the second most expensive footballer in history and “without doubt the most promising” young player in the world, as club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi described him at the time.

The burden of helping the club try and secure its first ever Champions League title, though shared at times in his seven seasons in Paris with Zlatan Ibrahimović, Lionel Messi and Neymar, was also placed on Mbappé’s shoulders after PSG paid Monaco a reported $214 million for his services.

Mbappé’s time at PSG has been one filled with successes, both team and individual. He’s won six Ligue 1 titles, three French Cups, two League Cups and a record five Player of the Year awards.

The one very notable omission from his trophy cabinet, however, is the Champions League, the title the club’s Qatari owners have craved the most since taking over in 2011. For all the vast sums of money lavished on some of the greatest names in world football, the closest Mbappé and PSG got was the final in 2020, where the team lost to Bayern Munich.

The closest Mbappé came to winning the Champions League was reaching the final in 2020. - Julian Finney/UEFA/Getty Images
The closest Mbappé came to winning the Champions League was reaching the final in 2020. - Julian Finney/UEFA/Getty Images

“There are a lot of emotions,” Mbappé said in his farewell video posted on social media. “Many years I had the chance and the great honor to be a member of the biggest French club, one of the best in the world, which allowed me to arrive here to have my first experience in a club with a lot of pressure.”

Almost seven years after arriving, Mbappé will have one final chance to add to his silverware collection when PSG faces Lyon in the French Cup final on Saturday.

Even if Mbappé was to lift one more trophy, can his time in Paris be considered a success if he didn’t achieve the club’s ultimate goal?

Mbappé’s achievements come with the caveat of being earned during a period of total PSG dominance in France, an era in which winning the league title is “expected of them, year in, year out” and “par for the course,” French football expert Raphaël Jucobin tells CNN.

“It’s an interesting one because if you look at the numbers, statistically speaking he’s probably the club’s best ever player,” Jucobin adds. “He’s their all-time top scorer, he’s won the league’s Player of the Year award five times in a row.

“He went to PSG to lead the club to the Champions League title so in a sense he hasn’t reached that goal, but I think it’s a bit more nuanced than seeing it as a success or as a failure because obviously he has achieved a lot at PSG.

“What’s interesting is he’s not necessarily captured the hearts of fans, especially in the way he’s left the club. He’s not necessarily been a fan favorite, but I think he’s probably - or at least statistically speaking - the club’s best ever player.”

It’s precisely the manner of Mbappé’s departure that seems to have most rankled PSG fans. It is no secret that the 2018 World Cup winner will be joining Real Madrid when his contract expires, publicly courting the Spanish giant over the years.

Mbappé played a key role in France winning the 2018 World Cup. - Michael Regan/FIFA/Getty Images
Mbappé played a key role in France winning the 2018 World Cup. - Michael Regan/FIFA/Getty Images

When Real submitted a $188 million bid for Mbappé in August 2021 – a deal that was close to being agreed – the Frenchman admitted at the time that he wanted to leave PSG.

Mbappé eventually made a U-turn to sign a new contract with PSG, which will now expire on June 30. In total, the Independent estimated that PSG has paid Mbappé a total of around €600 million ($650M) in salary during his time at the club.

There was also a world record $332 million bid for the forward from Saudi club Al-Hilal in July last year, but the move never materialized as Mbappé reportedly always had his mind set on Real, the club he grew up idolizing.

Jucobin says there is “a significant section of fans who are quite frustrated” with the way Mbappé has been “semi-openly been flirting with Real Madrid.”

However, despite not endearing himself entirely at times to supporters over the years, the PSG ultras decided they would honor Mbappé with a huge tifo at his final home game at the Parc des Princes after the Ligue 1 club decided it wouldn’t give the 25-year-old an official farewell ceremony. PSG were surprisingly beaten 3-1 by Toulouse in that game.

“The general consensus is that they are grateful for what he’s done,” Jucobin says. “He’s unquestionably been the face of the club for the last few seasons. He’s broken all kinds of scoring records and he’s brought a lot of success on the pitch.

“He’s also a local guy, which is also taken into account, but there hasn’t necessarily been a spark between him and the fans, as you might have seen with other players. Guys like [Marco] Verratti, for example. Verratti played his final game at the start of the season before he left for Qatar.

“That was a very, very emotional send-off. Verratti himself was in tears. Fans were chanting his name around the Parc des Princes. You could tell there was a real connection between him and the fans. With Mbappé, there’s maybe not as much emotion.”

Mbappé alluded to this idea in his farewell video, acknowledging he isn’t as expressive or emotional as other PSG players - and certainly not as much as the fans.

“It’s hard,” Mbappé said. “Hard. And I never thought it would be this difficult to announce that [I’m leaving], to leave my country, France, Ligue 1, a championship I have always known, but I think I needed this.

“A new challenge after seven years is difficult and of course there are some people I want to thank above all: these are the fans. I know I’m not the most demonstrative player.

“I haven’t always lived up to the love you all gave me for seven years but I never wanted to cheat, I have always wanted to be effective. I do not regret any moment.”

For Mbappé’s former teammate Thomas Meunier, there is no doubt about his ranking among club legends. “He’s the No.1,” he told L’Equipe earlier this month. “And by a long way.”

News outlet Ouest France described Mbappé’s departure as “the end of a soap opera of which the ending was already known.”

“The striker left a mark behind him, without ever managing to lead his team to the Grail, a victory in the Champions League,” it added. “Despite a final in 2020, ‘Kyks’ will not have won the famous ‘big ears cup,’ which has haunted the Qatari leaders since their takeover of the club in 2011.

“But the 25-year-old leaves with records which will be very difficult to beat, with the status of top goalscorer in the history of PSG and six French championship titles. The void left by Mbappé will be immense despite his repeated failures in the most prestigious of the European Cups.”

Real Madrid may have won 14 European Cups to PSG’s zero, but the pressure of playing for Los Blancos in the Champions League and being successful remains as intense as any club on the continent.

Lionel Messi, Neymar Jr. and Mbappé underwhelmed as PSG's front three. - Aurelien Meunier/PSG/Getty Images
Lionel Messi, Neymar Jr. and Mbappé underwhelmed as PSG's front three. - Aurelien Meunier/PSG/Getty Images

Even with Neymar and Messi around him, Mbappé was always unequivocally the main man at PSG. At Real Madrid, which already boasts world class young talent in Vinícius Jr. and Jude Bellingham, that won’t necessarily be the case.

“It will be interesting to see what he can do in that kind of environment,” Jucobin says. “Where he will have not just competition on the pitch, but competition off the pitch as well in terms of being the face of the club. So I think we’ll probably see a different side to Mbappé in that sense.

“He’s aware of what he’s getting into. He knows what he’ll have to do. He’s quite an adaptable player in that sense, he knows when to take a backseat. That has been the case sometimes in the French national team.

“He relishes being in the limelight, relishes taking on leadership roles, but I think he’s well aware that initially he’ll have to sort of work his way into that role at Real Madrid. It’s not going to be handed to him on a platter.”

Whether or not fans agree on his status among the PSG greats, Mbappé has unquestionably left an indelible mark on the club - even if together they fell short of the ultimate prize.

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