Kylian Mbappé versus Erling Haaland is emerging as the new major individual rivalry in football. Their status as the brightest young talents in the world was predicted three years ago.
What sets the Norwegian and the Frenchman apart from Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo is their early recognition of their own worth and the influence they wield.
According to Spanish media, Haaland, when he transferred to Manchester City last summer, included a release clause in his contract that will become active in 2024. The Athletic reports that this clause, which can only be triggered by non-Premier League clubs, has an initial value of €200 million and gradually decreases until the end of Haaland’s contract in 2027.
There have been reports in the global sports media that Mbappé wants to leave Paris Saint–Germain, and some in his camp believe that extending his contract with the club last summer was a mistake.
This is a marked contrast to their predecessors. Messi remained with Barcelona for 18 years, and the possibility of leaving only emerged when he turned 30. He eventually changed clubs at the age of 34, during a period of pandemic and financial turmoil at Barcelona, and under the leadership of a club president with a tarnished image.
Ronaldo left his hometown club Sporting at 18 and joined Manchester United. When he requested a transfer in 2008, he was firmly told by Sir Alex Ferguson that he would have to wait at least another 12 months.
In 2009, Real Madrid bought Ronaldo for a record sum, and he stayed there for nine seasons.
To put things into perspective, before they turned 23 – Mbappé‘s current age and the age Haaland will be next summer – Messi and Ronaldo had only made one transfer each throughout their careers.
Meanwhile, Haaland is already at his fourth club, and Mbappé is at his second. Moreover, unlike Messi and Ronaldo, speculation about Haaland and Mbappé’s future shows no signs of stopping.
Of course, part of the explanation lies in the fact that Messi and Ronaldo were already at top clubs from their teenage years. Players usually have no desire to leave clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid, or Manchester United during Sir Alex‘s tenure.
The same cannot be said for Haaland’s previous clubs, with all due respect to Molde, Red Bull Salzburg, and Borussia Dortmund. As for PSG, while it is a major financial power in football, it competes in a league that falls short compared to the top leagues. There are doubts about whether the Qatari owners will continue their significant investments beyond the 2022 World Cup.
The more intriguing aspect is how Haaland and Mbappé have secured a kind of “emergency exit” clause, which grants them significant control over their situations at their current clubs.
The French player had been reluctant to extend his contract with PSG for a long time and finally did so just six days before he would have become a free agent. According to a big sports magazine his new contract is officially for three years, but in reality, it is for two years with an option for an additional year, which Kylian himself would have to activate.
The club has never denied this aspect, and if it is true, it means that Mbappé will be a free agent in 2024. Moreover, entering the final year of his contract next summer gives him more flexibility and options when considering a potential transfer.
Haaland’s advisors, including his father Alfie and the agency of the late Mino Raiola, have taken care to include attractive release clauses in his contracts since his time at Molde. These clauses include €20 million to leave Salzburg, €60 million to leave Borussia Dortmund, and, if rumors are accurate, €200 million (with a decreasing amount) to leave Manchester City.
Is the information regarding his contract with Manchester City accurate? Pep Guardiola firmly stated, “He does not have a release clause for Real Madrid or any other team. It is not true, and that’s all I can say,” last week.
Does Guardiola’s statement settle the matter? Not necessarily.
It is possible that Guardiola carefully chose his words, indicating that such a clause does not currently exist since it can only be activated after two years.
Alternatively, the terms of the contract may include provisions that require all parties involved to deny the existence of the release clause, at least during a certain period. The exact details remain unknown.
However, two things are clear. Firstly, the lack of transparency regarding these release clauses and their values is absurd and immature.
Secrecy surrounding release clauses doesn’t benefit anyone since both the player and their agents are aware of its existence and will inform interested clubs. So, what’s the purpose of having such a clause? (Similar maneuvers regarding Haaland‘s release clause were seen at Dortmund as well.)
Another evident point is that Haaland‘s camp had the upper hand during negotiations with City last summer. It would be odd if they hadn’t included a release clause in his contract with the English champions, especially considering the significant leverage the €60 million clause gave them at Dortmund.
Similarly, it would be equally unusual if City had rejected the inclusion of such a clause.
Firstly, because the “Citizens” generally adhere to discipline when it comes to player contracts, even if it means allowing some experienced players to leave – just look at what happened with Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus. Pep Guardiola’s message to Bernardo Silva (“No one is obligated to stay if they don’t want to“) exemplifies this approach.
Secondly, if someone is willing to pay €200 million for Haaland in 2024, it implies that he has had two outstanding years at City. At that point, the club would likely engage in contract negotiations with him (probably without a release clause).
But what if Haaland still wants to leave? In that case, the club would sell him at a profit of €140 million, considering they acquired him from Borussia at a favorable price.
You may wonder why a club would agree to include a release clause in a player’s contract.
The player may request such a clause while accepting a lower salary. In this way, they gamble on their market value exceeding the value of the release clause.
The buyer would then pay the difference between the market value and the clause, not to the player’s club but directly to the player when they sign their new contract.
By the way, it’s important not to confuse these clauses with those often discussed in the Spanish La Liga, which are actually buyout clauses.
According to Spanish labor laws, the buyout clause represents the amount a player must pay to terminate their contract and become a free agent. (Technically, the player would have to pay this amount from their own pocket, making the whole situation even more absurd).
In practice, these clauses have become so inflated that they have lost their significance. No one would pay €1 billion for Karim Benzema to enable him to terminate his contract with Real Madrid, as Barcelona once thought with Neymar‘s clause, which PSG refuted.
Regarding Erling Haaland‘s departure from Borussia Dortmund, the scenario unfolded as follows: despite the €60 million release clause, his actual price was probably triple that amount.
Instead of giving an additional €120 million to Dortmund, City allocated that money to fulfill specific demands from the player, such as substantial agent commissions and an enticing bonus structure based on performance. That’s likely why City was more willing to include a release clause in Haaland’s new contract.
The decisions made by Haaland and Mbappé (alongside their advisors and families) provide them with more than just guaranteed earnings.
These decisions grant them control over their careers since changing clubs and pursuing new destinations is entirely possible with these contracts.
Some may argue that this reflects the increasing power players hold over their clubs or is indicative of the new football era and Generation Z. However, it’s not a widespread phenomenon as it requires the status of Mbappé or Haaland to secure such influence.
It’s more akin to a button that launches them into a luxury jet, an opportunity only a select few will have, and it’s a launch that almost certainly guarantees a smooth landing.