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PARIS (AP) — Paris Saint-Germain striker Kylian Mbappe won the French league's best player award for the third time in his career on Sunday, then diplomatically swerved a question about his future.
Mbappe is out of contract at PSG next month and touted to join Karim Benzema at Real Madrid in what would be a formidable attack force. Mbappe said he didn’t want to announce his decision during the ceremony but added “Yes, pretty much” when asked if he’s made his mind up over whether to stay or go.
Mbappe is the league's top scorer with 25 goals for the French champion and has netted 36 in all competitions.
The awards are given annually by the National Union of Professional Football Players (UNFP) to players in France’s top two divisions.
The 23-year-old France star won the award last year — when Mbappe netted a career-high 42 goals overall — and in 2019.
“It's always an honor to be here. Winning for a third time in a row is incredible," Mbappe said. “I’ve felt the recognition this season more than ever.”
The trophy was not awarded in 2020 after the coronavirus pandemic ended the season 10 games early.
Although PSG comfortably won the league title — which it surprisingly lost to Lille last season — Mbappe's goals and assists masked glaring shortcomings which were ruthlessly exposed by Madrid in the round of 16 in the Champions League. PSG led 2-0 on aggregate thanks to Mbappe's goals, but then allowed three goals in under 20 minutes as Benzema tore the defense apart with a brilliant hat trick.
Mbappe's partnership with Benzema has blossomed since Benzema's return to the national side after seven years out and they both scored heavily in the past year for Les Bleus.
Benzema struck a magnificent goal in the Nations League final against Spain and Mbappe scored the winner.
Mbappe has scored 168 goals for PSG since joining from Monaco in a deal worth 180 million euros ($187 million) five years ago, the second highest tally in the club's history behind former teammate Edinson Cavani with 200 goals.
“I want to keep improving,” Mbappe said, laughing when the on-stage interviewer asked if he thought he could overtake Cavani at PSG, which would obviously mean staying there.
“I'm already very happy to be in the top three,” said Mbappe, who overtook Zlatan Ibrahimovic's PSG tally of 156 goals.
But PSG's failure to win the Champions League despite massive spending on star players — including a world record 222 million euros ($231 million) on Brazil's Neymar — has proved frustrating for Mbappe, the star of France's World Cup triumph four years ago.
In other awards, Bruno Genesio of Rennes was named best coach. The former Lyon coach was criticized early in the season but stuck to his principles. Fourth-place Rennes has played some of the best attacking soccer in France, scoring 80 goals in 37 games and only five fewer than top scorers PSG.
The best goalkeeper award went to PSG's Gianluigi Donnarumma, and 21-year-old Marseille defender William Saliba, who is on loan from Premier League team Arsenal, was the best young player.
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Jerome Pugmire, The Associated Press