Riyad Mahrez’s Leicester City teammate, and fellow nominee for Player of the Year, Jamie Vardy, has received plenty of recognition this season for his spectacular rise through the divisions – coming from non-League to the Premier League. A closer look at Mahrez’s career shows his rise to England’s top flight to be similarly impressive.
The Algerian’s career started in France, playing for Quimper before joining Le Havre in 2010. During his spell in France’s Ligue 2, Mahrez made 60 appearances for the first team and scored six goals. He impressed Leicester City enough to convince them to part with £400,000 to bring him to the King Power Stadium in January 2014.
Despite initially worrying that the English game might be too physical for him, he quickly settled and earned a starting berth in the first team. Leicester went on to win the Championship that season and Mahrez contributed three goals to their cause in 19 appearances.
The following season, 2014/15, Leicester survived by the skin of their teeth and needed a truly remarkable run of form late in the season to save their status as a Premier League club. It is perhaps reasonable to say that Mahrez didn’t pull up any trees and managed a fairly meagre return of four Premier League goals in 30 games.
However, this season has been a different story entirely. His drastic improvement in form has led many to consider him the frontrunner for the Player of the Year award, ahead of the likes of Harry Kane and his Leicester teammates Jamie Vardy and N’Golo Kante.
Mahrez hit the ground running at the start of the season scoring four goals in his first three games and his form hasn’t slowed down since. He is currently the Premier League’s fifth highest goalscorer with 16, and could have had more if not for a couple of missed penalties.
Not content with just being a goalscorer, he is also credited with an impressive eleven assists. His form has lead club captain Wes Morgan to describe him as Leicester’s ‘match winner’, and his manager Claudio Ranieri to describe him as ‘priceless’.
But, inevitably, his performances have led to speculation about his future. A list of clubs as long as your arm have been linked, including Arsenal and Barcelona. Even the modern day legend Xavi Hernandez has weighed in on the debate, saying Mahrez could play for Barcelona – high praise indeed. If he was to move on in the summer he would command a significantly higher transfer fee than the £400,000 Leicester spent on him back in 2014.
Despite the obvious positives involved in receiving the Player of the Year award an ominous omen for Leicester City fans will be the career trajectory of those who have won it in recent seasons.
Last year’s winner Eden Hazard has had a dreadful season, as did Robin van Persie the season after he won the award while Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez both left the Premier League for Spain, now plying their trade for Real Madrid and Barcelona, respectively.
Leicester City fans will certainly be hoping that Mahrez bucks this trend.
Simon Callan, Pundit Arena