Mbappé to snub Real Madrid for Barcelona? Why reports aren’t all they seem

Football fans in Spain were left stunned on Thursday by sports daily Mundo Deportivo’s sensational report that Real Madrid have pulled out of the race to sign long-term transfer target Kylian Mbappé, with the Paris Saint-Germain star now in line to join their bitter LaLiga rivals Barcelona in the summer instead.

The story, under the headline “Radical turn: Mbappé gets closer to Barça,” will have been hard for Madrid supporters to believe. Followers of Barcelona, meanwhile, would have found the news that the club have chosen him as a world-class signing to celebrate their 125th anniversary next year almost too good to be true.

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According to the Catalonia-based publication, Barça are prepared to use the €1 billion the club is set to receive as a founding member of the European Super League to lure Mbappé to Camp Nou in a plan dubbed “Operation Donatello.” That title is a reference to the nickname supposedly given to the France striker by his PSG teammates, because of his apparent likeness to the Ninja Turtles character.

A few weeks ago, according to the report, Barça president Joan Laporta and his Real Madrid counterpart Florentino Perez had a secret meeting and reached an agreement. As part of the pact, Barça would give their unconditional support to Perez regarding the breakaway Super League project, and in exchange Madrid would not only withdraw its interest in Mbappé but also recommend the 25-year-old’s entourage to sign for Barça. The only requirement that Perez imposed in that meeting was that Mbappé would not be able to use his stronger right foot when playing against Madrid in El Clasico.

Mundo Deportivo also writes that former Barcelona coach Luis Enrique, now in charge at PSG, has also recommended Mbappé to join Barça because the local media are very friendly. Moreover, Mbappé would have no problem settling in as PSG teammate Ousmane Dembélé is willing to lend him his home in the city and allow him to play his collection of video games. Another added bonus to Mbappé moving to Barça is that the player would get a lifetime subscription to Spotify, the forward’s music streaming platform of choice which also sponsors the Catalan club.

For anyone in Spain reading these details and feeling just a bit skeptical, one look at the calendar would assure them that this was not a story to take seriously. That’s because Dec. 28 is “El Dia de Los Inocentes” (The Day of the Holy Innocents) which is essentially the equivalent of April Fool’s Day in much of the Spanish-speaking world — a day to revel in the simple joy of pranks, jokes and japes. The folks on the Mundo Deportivo sports desk decided to get in on the act with this story, which no doubt got some pulses racing among their readership.

They did something very similar two years ago, when it was reported that Real Madrid legend Cristiano Ronaldo was so desperate to end his second spell at Manchester United and return to LaLiga that he had secretly offered his services to Barcelona. Still, if Mundo Deportivo had reported back then that in just over a year’s time Ronaldo would be playing in Saudi Arabia, it would have been easy to dismiss that as fake news as well.

In 2020, fans of Leganés, a club in Spain’s second division, woke up to the news that the club’s giant cucumber-shaped mascot “Super Pepino” would be leaving after having their “release clause” triggered by an unnamed LaLiga club.

The hoax was a not-so-subtle nod to the controversial departure of Martin Braithwaite, who was allowed to join Barcelona in an emergency move back in February of 2020, leaving Leganes unable to sign a replacement as they headed for relegation.

While in 2019, the most notable inocentada led Manchester City fans to read the shock announcement in an official statement from Real Sociedad that their club had signed Martin Ødegaard on loan, even though the Norway midfielder was actually already at La Real on loan from Real Madrid at the time.

“We are forced to take this difficult decision in order to avoid possible media comments for the next six months,” a club statement read, before giving the game away by adding: “What a relief!”

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