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After Kylian Mbappe’s departure, what’s next for Paris Saint-Germain?

Maybe this was a glimpse of the future.
On Saturday night, Paris Saint-Germain took on Nantes without Kylian Mbappe in their starting XI. After playing 90 minutes against visitors Real Sociedad in the Champions League in midweek, and then privately revealing his intention to leave PSG at the end of the season, Mbappe was dropped by coach Luis Enrique. The striker had sat on the bench against Lille the Saturday before that Champions League last-16 first leg — a precaution due to an ankle knock — but, other than that, the occasions he has been relegated among the replacements have been few and far between over the past seven years. In the context of what has happened this past week, it felt symbolic of a power shift. Had his confession over his impending exit ended his untouchable status and made rotation easier? Luis Enrique preferred a simpler reflection. “There was a Champions League match during the week and we needed energy to be competitive,” he said after his side’s 2-0 away win. “We had to give playing time to those who didn’t have it in Europe. Our goal is ambitious and I need all players involved to achieve it.” But this picture in Nantes, of a PSG side without Mbappe, will be the norm soon enough. A team without a storied individual. The Ligue 1 champions and current leaders will be shedding the spotlight and the baggage that can come with that. But they will also be losing a game-changer who can — as he inevitably illustrated when he came on after an hour on Saturday — step off the bench, embarrass an opponent to win a penalty, score it, and kill off a match. PSG have become accustomed to those moments of brilliance from Mbappe. But now, change is coming. The impact will be huge. Preparing for life after Mbappe has not been an unforeseen eventuality for PSG. Speculation about his future has been a regular, and often tiresome, soap opera that has rumbled on through almost every transfer window over the past two years. Now, however, the conclusion feels more concrete. It may not have been publicly stated, nor his new club formally agreed. But this time it is for real. Mbappe will leave PSG in the summer. And PSG must focus on life without him. That is not going to be easy. Mbappe is not just any old player — and not only because of his talent. He is the most influential French player to have ever worn their shirt. He may have insisted that the club was not ‘Kylian Saint-Germain’ in a marketing dispute last year but, at least in recent times, it is hard to escape the veracity of that description. Mbappe is arguably the best player in the world today, having established himself as PSG’s record goalscorer by the age of 25. He has claimed multiple records since he signed, at 18, from Ligue 1 rivals Monaco in summer 2017 on an initial loan that turned into a €180million (now £153.8m; $193.7m) permanent switch a year later. He has scored the most goals for PSG both domestically and in Europe, as well as the most hat-tricks, the most ‘doubles’ and the most goals in a single game (five). He has helped France win the World Cup in that time, scored in successive World Cup finals, including one hat-trick, has won the tournament’s Golden Boot, and gone on to become France captain. He is the most prolific and consistent goalscorer the French league has seen since Jean-Pierre Papin was running riot for Marseille in the late 1980s and early 1990s. If he wins the Ligue 1 Golden Boot again this season (a near-certainty: he is on 21 goals, second-placed Wissam Ben Yedder of Monaco has 11), he will have received that award six times in a row — no player has done that before. How on earth do you fill that Grand Canyon of a void?

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