Why now is decision time for PSG's Adrien Rabiot
With a year left on his existing deal, Adrien Rabiot has an important decision to make in the coming days and weeks. Paris Saint-Germain are eager to keep him. Why would they not? He has a wealth of experience for a 23-year-old and is widely regarded as a top-class midfielder possessing a range of different attributes.
Despite this, Les Rouge et Bleu are cautious that the underlying issue of player power could be exploited by Rabiot and his family, who appear unsettled by the club's attempts to extend his contract in Paris and end all speculation regarding his future, at least for now. They are more willing to sell him now for a respectable fee, than risk losing him on a free next summer. The final verdict revolves around Rabiot, just how unhappy he really is and whether he wants to take on a new challenge.
Why is he attracting so much interest?
Barcelona, Juventus, Arsenal and both Manchester clubs are said to be among the European sides monitoring his ongoing situation. Why?
He has a playing style that suits various teams, an excellent passing range, as well as the capability to play both central and defensive midfield comfortably. That duality is rarely assigned sufficient importance anymore. Contemporary players are expected to be versatile, but controlling the midfield and doing it well is something that few can do. Rabiot can.
Whether he's alongside Marco Verratti in a 4-2-3-1 or playing centrally as part of a 4-3-3, he is the distributor. Rabiot dictates the tempo in midfield, creating chances from various areas and unlocking the opposition backline. He has every reason to be proud of his work, too.
When out of possession, he's the intelligent operator who tracks runs and does his utmost to halt attacks with timely interceptions and defensive interventions. It's rare that he will do this in a game, unless against top opposition. That being said, it seems like he's frustrated upon occasion when he does have to play more cautiously, sit deeper, or defend for sustained periods.
Blaise Matuidi's transfer to Juventus last summer left a sizeable hole in midfield Rabiot has been happy to fill, while aiming to improve his consistency. With Neymar and Kylian Mbappe around, he has more attacking options from which to choose but proportionately less opportunity to drive forward. Deep down, that's the role he would prefer.
It's clear new boss Thomas Tuchel wants Rabiot but understands who holds the cards. For that reason, the German's ongoing interest in N'Golo Kanté is genuine. The two-time Premier League champion could partner Verratti and Rabiot as part of a midfield trio while providing Rabiot license to roam forward.
A new club may not give the youngster the same opportunity. Rabiot struggled to display his attacking qualities when the lights were brightest, last season. PSG's last-16 tie with Real Madrid in February was a prime example.
His passing was at its usual standard (90%), but he wilted under pressure and made too many poor decisions. Over 180 minutes, he was dispossessed on nine occasions, committed six fouls and made an error in the build-up to one of Real's goals.
Is the timing right?
Had he been part of France's World Cup squad, played and made an important contribution in Russia, I might be inclined to answer yes. Didier Deschamps only had a place on the standby list for him, which speaks volumes. Rabiot had a challenging season, one which highlighted his flaws as well as his strengths. The 49-year-old opted for a more experienced, dependable midfielder in Sevilla's Steven N'Zonzi.
Publicly rejecting Deschamps' decision isn't a good sign. It was a poor move on his part, suggesting both arrogance and complacency. The boss' response was constructive.
He has taken this decision, which is an error. It’s too bad for him. The players are free to make their decisions. I can understand his immense disappointment. I only make decisions on a sporting basis. If he is hurt because he thinks he is better than others, why not? He has the right to think that.
Most managers take little umbrage if a player voices disappointment publicly when not chosen. Competition within the squad is desirable. Making himself unavailable took it too far, however. Rabiot will have to prove his maturity to be considered again for France.
So does he stay and fight to prove his critics wrong? Or move abroad and look to flourish elsewhere?
Even though the mature choice might be to stay, there's an air of inevitability that he will go. He has disparaged Ligue 1's quality and played up the competition elsewhere in Europe. He has the potential to handle that competition. Leaving is a risk that could pay off. Still, the best advice is to be patient and see how Tuchel uses him.
PSG are yet to make any midfield acquisitions. They are sending a quiet message that Rabiot is wanted. They could have easily targeted someone like Real's Mateo Kovacic, who appears available.
Who knows? Tuchel might transform the youngster much as he did Julian Weigl. He gave the German his debut for Borussia Dortmund in 2015 and the two midfielders are similar. The ball is on Rabiot's foot.