by Andy Scott
Paris - As Paris Saint-Germain prepare to face Real Madrid in the Champions League, the French club hope a victory in the tie could yet help convince Kylian Mbappe to stay rather than move to the Spanish capital.
The clock continues to tick down on the World Cup-winning striker's contract in Paris which expires in June, five years after he joined his hometown team from Monaco in a 180 million-euro ($204m) deal.
It is understood PSG turned down an equivalent offer from Real last August to keep Mbappe for at least one more season and team him up in attack with Lionel Messi and Neymar.
That seemed to prove money is no object for the Qatar-owned club, but it appears that all the money in the world may not be enough to convince Mbappe, now 23, to stay at the Parc des Princes.
Real's pursuit of the France star goes back to when he was a young teenager and they invited him and his parents to take in a game at the Santiago Bernabeu, having Zinedine Zidane meet him at their training ground.
He opted to sign for Monaco then, and he chose PSG in 2017 despite again being linked with Real, yet an eventual move to Madrid has always seemed inevitable.
Mbappe has been the top scorer in Ligue 1 in the last three seasons and despite the arrival of Messi, he has remained PSG's most decisive player by a distance in this campaign.
On Friday, he scored the winner against Rennes to move on to 21 goals for the season, more than Messi, Neymar, Angel Di Maria and Mauro Icardi put together.
"He is already one of the greatest players in PSG's history," captain Marquinhos told broadcaster TF1. When asked if he had tried to convince Mbappe to stay, he added: "Of course."
- No decision taken -
In Paris, they are clinging to the hope Mbappe could change his mind if Mauricio Pochettino's team beat Madrid in their Champions League last-16 tie, with the first leg at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday to be followed by the return in Spain on March 9.
"I have not made my decision," Mbappe told Amazon Prime last week.
"The fact we are playing against Real Madrid changes a lot of things.
"Even though I am free to do so, I am not going to go and talk to our opponents. I am focused on beating Real Madrid and then we will see."
Mbappe has won every domestic honour with PSG several times over but has not been able to win the Champions League, coming closest in 2020 when they lost the final to Bayern Munich.
Pochettino, though, played down the significance of the clash with Real in terms of Mbappe's career.
"I don't think such an important decision could come down to one match or one tie," he told Spanish radio station Cadena Ser.
"He has lots of people around him who I am sure are advising him in the best way. He will make a decision after the tie."
It is a pivotal moment for PSG. This season has simply confirmed that, while a 34-year-old Messi is on the wane and Neymar remains plagued by injury, Mbappe represents the future.
A loss to Real, followed by Mbappe confirming his departure would feel like a humiliation for a club still chasing elusive Champions League glory, 11 years on from the Qatar Sports Investments takeover.
Meanwhile, regardless of the outcome of this tie, Madrid need a new talisman.
Karim Benzema is 34 and Luka Modric will soon be 37, while Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard have been increasingly sidelined under Carlo Ancelotti.
Vinicius Junior is now confirming his potential and adding Mbappe in attack is a mouth-watering prospect.
Since their splurge on Hazard in 2019, Real have been quiet in the transfer market with some believing the club has not only been absorbing the financial consequences of the pandemic but also saving funds for their Mbappe pursuit.
Money has also been directed towards renovating the Bernabeu, and Real would love to have Mbappe spearheading a new-look team in a new-look stadium.