May 21, 2022 marked the first day in a new era for Paris Saint-Germain.
It was a sentiment amplified by club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi before their final match of the season at home to Metz after confirming that Kylian Mbappe had signed a new three-year contract, turning down the chance to join Real Madrid.
Mbappe himself addressed a full-capacity Parc des Princes prior to kick-off, insisting Paris was ‘my city’, that he is thrilled to be staying.
There was, of course, the small matter of a game to be played before PSG’s Ligue 1 title celebrations got underway. It very well proved to be one of the best Mbappe will ever have.
Clearly galvanized by the news, PSG as a whole looked a far more cohesive attacking unit as they have all season.
Set out by Mauricio Pochettino in a lesser-spotted 4-2-3-1 formation, Mbappe, Lionel Messi, Neymar and Angel Di Maria – on his final appearance for the club – flittered across the pitch simultaneously in unison and in interchange, swapping positions and pulling Metz apart.
Mbappe’s first of his three hat-trick goals came midway through the first half and was straight out of his own playbook, racing onto a Di Maria through the ball and rounding the goalkeeper before sitting two defenders on their backsides to open the scoring.
His second was fairly similar, this time motoring into an inch of space to meet a Messi pass and squeeze it in from a tight angle.
The match-ball clincher came when Mbappe sniffed out Metz – who at this point in the evening were surviving relegation on goal difference – becoming complacent, stealing possession from Kiki Kouyate and once again taking it round keeper Marc-Aurele Caillard.
It’s hard for Mbappe not to ever look quick, look strong, like the best player in the world, like someone had gone back in time and cloned Ronaldo Nazario when he first joined Inter. But the way he ate up Metz and glided across the pitch like he was ten-feet tall suggests that at 23 he may now be entering another peak of his career. He grabbed a well-deserved hat-trick but on another night he would have scored double that (and not in the way Alan Shearer describes every battering on Match of the Day, he missed some genuinely gilt-edged chances).
Physical progress isn’t linear, particularly with modern athletes, and we don’t know for certain if the world-conquering Mbappe we’ve already seen in the last half-decade will stick around over the duration of his new three-year deal – he could get a major injury, he could see the money he’s earning and simply not care enough about football anymore, who knows. That said, it’s a pretty safe bet that Mbappe will dominate Europe one way or another, but he can’t do it alone.
PSG losing their star asset on a free transfer would have been catastrophic to their hopes of finally winning the Champions League in the near future. They’ve managed to somehow steer themselves from the brink of that disaster, but it could yet still be in vain if they fail to build a team capable of keeping up with their speedy talisman.