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PSG must choose whether to save star striker Mbappé for Champions League

PARIS (AP) — Paris Saint-Germain coach Luis Enrique must choose whether to rest star striker Kylian Mbappé for the trip to Monaco in the French league on Friday.

PSG has a Champions League last-16 game on Tuesday and defends a 2-0 lead against Real Sociedad. Mbappé scored in the first leg.

PSG has been eliminated from the last 16 in the past two seasons. Enrique can ill afford to take risks, and may need Mbappé at his sharpest if Sociedad gets back into the contest. It would surely make sense to rest Mbappé, the French league top scorer with 21.

While a dangerous side in attack, Monaco is not a title contender. It sits in third place, 13 points behind PSG, with only 10 games left after this weekend.

But like most great players, Mbappé always wants to play.

Enrique caused quite a stir last Sunday when he took him off midway through the second half with PSG trailing 1-0 at home to Rennes. Mbappé's replacement Gonçalo Ramos ended up rescuing a point with an injury-time penalty.

After the game, Enrique justified his decision by saying fans should start getting used to life without PSG’s 244-goal, all-time record scorer.

“It’s very simple. Sooner or later, when it happens (that he leaves) we must get used to playing without Kylian,” Luis Enrique said. “When I want to select him I will, (and) when that’s not the case, same thing.”

It was the first time Enrique publicly spoke about Mbappé in the past tense as a player. The French media jumped on it as proof of an impending power struggle, with Enrique showing Mbappé he’s lost his privileged status now that he’s leaving.

Or has he?

Mbappé was in the headlines again on Tuesday night when he attended a state dinner held by French President Emmanuel Macron at the Élysée Palace, welcoming the emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

PSG has been owned by Qatar investor QSI since 2011 and it has invested more than 1.5 billion euros ($1.62 billion) on a glittering array of star players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Neymar, Lionel Messi and Mbappé.

As guests from Qatar arrived at the Élysée, along with French politicians and national industry billionaires, they were all introduced to Macron and then to the emir.

When it came to Mbappé's turn, his official title was “Professional soccer player.”

But he represents far more than that.

Two years ago, a phone call from Macron helped to persuade Mbappé to stay in France amid an aggressive pursuit from Spanish giant Real Madrid.

Mbappé signed a new two-year deal back then but stunned PSG last year by not taking up the option for an extra year.

Two weeks ago, he informed club president Nasser al-Khelaifi that he’s leaving PSG at the end of the season. Mbappé is widely expected to join Madrid and some reports say his mother is already looking for property there.

After Macron shook Mbappé's hand, the emir moved closer to Mbappé and spoke briefly in his ear, turning his back to cameras — perhaps so no lip-reading was possible.

Was this a last-ditch bid to get Mbappé to change his mind, again, and stay?

After all, Mbappé has not made his desire to leave public yet and could, in theory at least, still change his mind.


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