The Kylian Mbappe-Lionel Messi World Cup Final Could Make or Break PSG’s Champions League Dream
During the World Cup, club soccer gets put on the back burner. With those seasons suspended and big-picture storylines dominating the scene, it’s reasonable to forget about things like the Champions League. From PSG’s perspective, though, what’s going on in Qatar could have major implications over the rest of the season. Just consider the small matter of the Kylian Mbappe-Lionel Messi World Cup Final.
While it’s easy to treat that match as the Alpha and Omega of modern soccer, life will go on when the teams leave Qatar. And, for a club like PSG, this match could shape the rest of the 2022-23 campaign.
Let’s break it down.
A Kylian Mbappe-Lionel Messi matchup will pit 2 of PSG’s biggest stars against each other
Thanks to their fantastic wealth, PSG have been able to assemble something resembling an all-star team in Paris. During the World Cup, though, those players are scattered across the bracket with their respective national squads.
The most apparent example of that will take place during the World Cup Final when Lionel Messi’s Argentina face off against Kylian Mbappe’s France. There are plenty of narrative threads to pull on — Can the Argentine finally make it over the hump on soccer’s biggest stage? Will France win back-to-back titles? — but having two of soccer’s biggest stars, who happen to be club teammates, facing off for all the marbles is certainly part of the equation.
Before going any further, though, let’s consider the “why” of Messi and Mbappe’s overlap in Paris.
For PSG, everything is about winning the Champions League
While there’s room to debate what PSG’s motivations are (sportswashing and prestige are larger topics that are probably a bit complex to hash out here), we know that the club wants to win the Champions League. Domestic titles and cups have been relatively easy to come by, but European success has proven to be elusive.
The French giants have won plenty of games in the competition and purchased stars with a history of success in the tournament, but that hasn’t gotten them over the hump. PSG reached the 2019-20 Champions League Final (they lost) and have found all sorts of ways to blow leads and choke away advantages in other years. No matter who’s on the pitch or calling the shots from the sideline, the results seem to be uncomfortably constant.
Adding Lionel Messi to the fold ahead of the 2021-22 campaign was part of the attempt to change that. With all due respect to the French league, PSG no longer cares about those titles; having 10 in the bank, including eight in the past decade, has taken some of the shine away. It’s all about winning that European trophy to get a place at the continent’s elite table.
A Kylian Mbappe-Lionel Messi World Cup Final could cause some psychological challenges for the Champions League charge
From a talent perspective, it’s hard to argue with a front three of Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi, and Neymar. When we add the 2022 World Cup into the equation, though, things could get even trickier for PSG.
While it’s easy for fans to view an international defeat as just another loss, that isn’t the case. As Takehiro Tomiyasu of Arsenal and Japan noted after his tournament came to an end, the World Cup carries an incredible amount of weight. Even if we set aside the physical toll of playing multiple matches across a few weeks, there’s the mental and emotional strain of representing your country on the biggest stage. A single mistake can ruin a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for you and your teammates. That’s exhausting and can have very real effects on a player’s mental state.
First, let’s take a look at Neymar. While he isn’t directly within the scope of this piece — it’s a Kylian Mbappe-Lionel Messi World Cup Final, after all — the Brazilian star did leave Qatar in dramatic fashion. Despite playing well and being one of the heaviest favorites, the South American nation fell on penalty kicks in the quarterfinals. Neymar thought he scored the game-winning goal, then found himself eliminated without even attempting a penalty.
It had to be crushing.
Now, imagine the feeling of losing a World Cup Final. And, to make matters worse, there are also some extra stakes for PSG’s two stars.
For Mbappe, this match is a chance to establish himself as a living legend at age 24. While you could argue his youth makes things a bit less stressful — there’s plenty of time to make up for a defeat — sports narratives don’t always follow perfect logic. Should France fall short and the star forward fail to make an impact, maybe some start wondering if he’s just a flat-track bully. Maybe (and this isn’t me saying it) he’s been the beneficiary of favorable circumstances and wouldn’t find the same success if he weren’t playing for a dominant club and national team.
Looking at Messi, though, there are some very real consequences to losing to France. The Argentine, for all of his success, has never won a World Cup. Failing short on Sunday wouldn’t only hurt his all-time GOAT status, but it would mean staring down a career shortcoming. Barring an unlikely series of events, this match will be Messi’s last kick of the global can.
Now, try to place yourself in either of those star’s shoes. Not only have you lost the biggest match in football, but you’ve seen your coworker win. Then, after a relatively short break, you have to forget that all happened and go back to the office and try to get a major project (winning the Champions League) over the line.
Does that sound easy?
By that same token, though, whoever wins the World Cup will be feeling pretty good. Either Messi has gotten a massive burden off his back, or Mbappe has already established himself as something pretty close to a living legend. That will presumably help them step right back into the PSG fold and make an impact.
Will that confidence be able to balance out the (potential) mental burden elsewhere in the starting 11? Only time will tell. It does seem safe to assume, however, that the Kylian Mbappe-Lionel Messi World Cup Final is going to be a season-shaping event for PSG, one way or another.