Riyad Mahrez: The Artist and the Enigma
By Chas Chohan
It was January 2014 Leicester City had ambitions of Premier League football backed by wealthy Thai owners and the King Power Group. Head Coach Steve Walsh was watching a potential target to bring to the East Midlands club. That player was Ryan Mendes. His report was that he was not quite good enough. In the same match he noticed a skinny young lad and thought “wow he’s not bad, this kid has got something!”.
Manager Nigel Pearson took a gamble on a complete unknown based on a hunch by Steve Walsh who previously had bought the likes of Didier Drogba, Micheal Essien and Jamie Vardy to English football. Leicester City paid £400.000 to bring him to the Midlands.
At the time my favourite player was Anthony Knockaert. He was a class player who could do the unexpected, a touch of smooth velvety cream in a soup bowl that is the English Championship, the hardest league in the world to get promotion from.
Suddenly this new guy who I never heard of had taken his place down the right side of our midfield. Something clicked, maybe Maherz was the final piece in the jigsaw and with goals from Vardy and Nugent prompted by the vision of Danny Drinkwater, Leicester City were champions and entered the promised land of the Premier league.
It was a tough baptism of fire and Leicester survived their first season back with the big boys by winning seven of the final nine of the season. Mahrez scored four goals and three assists in a memorable season in back in English footballs top flight.
The 2015 -2016 will live with me until I take my last breath. In fact, I always tell my friends that after my son being born it’s the greatest moment in my life. Nigel Pearson had been sacked and veteran Claudio Ranieri had taken over the reigns. Gary linker famously tweeted “Claudio Ranieri really?”. Mahrez was given a new four-year contract and chief scout Steve Walsh had signed another unknown from the French league in N’golo Kante.
The bones of King Richard III had been unearthed beneath a car park and the city of Leicester had come to the attention of the worlds media. But finding the remains of England’s last Plantagenist king would be nothing to the miracle that was about to unfold.
Perhaps it was awakening, and something was stirring in this small unfashionable part of the footballing world-famous for hosiery, curries, pork pies and Walkers crisps. Leicester City were champions of England. Mahrez and co had achieved the unimaginable. He was at the center of everything and finished with seventeen goals alongside twenty-four from Jamie Vardy and with tenacity of N’golo Kante had taken the title from under the noses of English footballs greats.
Mahrez was named in the PFA team of the year and won PFA players player of the year, the African footballer the year and nominated for the Ballon D’oir finishing a credible seventh.
Things don’t last forever and despite signing another four-year contract, Mahrez egged on by his agent decided he wanted to leave. N’golo Kante had already gone and Mahrez was being coveted by the elite. Arsene Wenger was first to cast his rod followed by Manchester united, Chelsea and Roma. But Marhez had his sights on the biggest fish of them all and his boyhood dream of playing for the mighty Barcelona.
In the 2016-2017 season Riyad went missing. His performances were inept and fans questioned his commitment. Before the end of the transfer window while on duty for Algeria, Mahrez was given permission to leave the camp. He waited at the airport wanting his big move where ever in Europe it would take him. The deadline came and went and Mahrez was left waiting at the airport like an expectant father or the character played by Tom Hanks in the film The Terminal. Mahrez went on to sack his agent and was now with Kia Joorrabchian agent to footballs elite whose clients have included Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano.
Its now 2018 and the January transfer window is upon us. So what now for Riyad Mahrez? Barcelona have signed Coutinho so that option seems to have gone. But Liverpool seem to be favourites speculation last week was that he was about to have a medical ahead of a £48 million move. The internet was rife with tweets ahead of a reporter from middle eastern company BEIN sports reporting a deal was imminent. My initial reaction was that this must be a joke despite many Liverpool fans thinking they can sell their main attacker for £146 million and buy ours, a former Premier League winner and footballer of the year for such a derisory fee. I can tell you now as far as I know after N’golo Kante had gone for just £32 million no player at LCFC has a release clause. With Liverpool paying £75 million for a defender recently, do they honestly believe they can get one of the best players in the world for a poultry £48 million?
So how much is Mahrez worth ? Former foxes favourite Robbie Savage said last week Mahrez is easily worth at least £75 million. Arsenal are again being linked with Mahrez as well as Thomas Lemar if Sanchez as expected leaves for one of the Manchester clubs. I think Riyad will go in this window. He has been a fantastic servant to the club and having spoken to people who sit near me he is the best flair player they’ve seen at the club since the late great Keith Weller. I think we should be selling him for nothing less than £90 million anything less in today’s market would be a scandal. But to me he is priceless. When the elite clubs come calling you have to open the cage and let a dove like Riyad Mahrez spread his wings and fly away. Good luck Riyad thanks for the memories you will always be in our hearts Leicester City’s number 26.