The silky 25-year-old French-born Algerian, Riyad Mahrez, has risen to prominence on the world football stage after some eye-catching performances in the Premier League.
Leicester City have defied the odds and now miraculously occupy the summit of, arguably, the most competitive league in world football.
The club currently sits seven points ahead of second placed Tottenham Hotspur and has been perceived as a pretender well throughout the season, but their consistent performances are turning even the biggest of doubters into believers.
Their (almost) success can be largely attributed to the feet of Riyad Mahrez, as this article lists seven ways that the ‘Algerian Wizard’, as he is affectionately known, has transformed the club and given it the bite its nickname, The Foxes, deserves:
Having been embroiled in a relegation battle in the 2014-15 season, Leicester City went into the new season not knowing what to expect. With a new manager at the helm in the shape of Claudio Ranieri they would have had hopes for a much improved campaign, but surely not even they could have imagined the start that they would pull off.
They came away as 4-2 victors over Sunderland courtesy of a first-half blitz which saw Riyad Mahrez score two goals in the first 18 minutes of what would be the start of something special.
Riyad Mahrez’s rise in prominence came part and parcel with that of English forward, Jamie Vardy. The duo has managed to strike a formidable partnership, amassing a staggering 37 goals and 17 assists between them to date. Thus having a hand in all but 20 of Leicester City’s 57 goals this campaign (65 per cent goal involvement).
The Algerian winger’s trickery and quick thinking, accompanied with an eye for a pass, has only served as a compliment to the ever-energetic and willing running of Jamie Vardy and with the English forward’s skillful finishing the duo has been unstoppable this season.
Going into their sixth match of the season unbeaten there was a cause for nervousness heading into their contest against Aston Villa. The nerves were apparent as Leicester went 2-0 down with just under half an hour to go.
Riyad Mahrez stepped up and proved to be the inspiration behind their comeback. With his pace and skill, he had a hand in all three of their goals: the first being a corner onto the head of Ritchie de Laet; the second one with his skills on full display, Mahrez weaved through the Aston Villa midfield and laid the ball off to Danny Drinkwater who played it into the feet of Jamie Vardy to delightfully tap in the equaliser; lastly, the final winning goal courtesy of a Nathan Dyer header from a pinpoint Mahrez cross to deservedly give Leicester City the three points and carry on their impressive start to the campaign.
Riyad Mahrez’s rise as one of the best players of the campaign was solidified further on December 5, 2015. In a match centred around Jamie Vardy, who was seeking to score in a record-breaking twelfth consecutive Premier League outing, Mahrez proved to be the difference in a 3-0 win.
The winger ran riot against a hapless Swansea defense, bagging a goal that not only took his goals tally to double figures but also wrote his name in history by becoming the first Algerian to score a hat-trick in the Barclays Premier League. The win over Swansea also, subsequently, took Leicester City to second of the log.
The performances of Riyad Mahrez this season have sparked an evident increase in his value. The fee paid by Leicester City to Le Havre, his former club, was a mere EUR€450,000. Two years later has seen the winger estimated to be worth GBP£30 million (according to the figures issued by the International Center for Sports Studies). Couple that with the fact that he is just 25 years old, it should not be surprising that his exploits this season have already began to attract interest from the likes of Barcelona, Manchester United and Real Madrid.
Riyad Mahrez has set the Barclays Premier League, and world football as a whole, ablaze. Even though football is ultimately about goals, it takes more than that in one’s locker to be an all round professional. Mahrez’s intelligence and skill has been a marvel to witness.
His first touch is impeccable; his anticipation, especially in and around the 18-yard box, is quick and reflexive; and he has a low centre of gravity which has allowed him to dart and weave through numerous rearguards in the Premier League. This was not more evident than in his well-taken goal scored in the important 3-1 win over fellow title hopefuls, Manchester City:
Last, but not least, Riyad Mahrez’s hard work attitude and will to succeed has helped in Leicester City’s magical season. It takes a lot for a club that just escaped relegation to be challenging for the title a year after. The attitude of Mahrez was evident in an interview with BBC in February of this year in which he valiantly stated that, ‘There is not one star, two stars, three stars – we play and work for each other’. He went on to share that his team’s success cannot and should not be attributed to the goal scorers, but rather that it is a team effort of hard work and tactical discipline.
The Algerian’s selfless character was on show when, in a moment of controversy in their 2-1 home win against Watford, Leicester City were awarded a penalty. Mahrez, as the club’s regular penalty taker, picked the ball up and handed it to Jamie Vardy – who scored the spot-kick and maintained the run which saw him break the record for most consecutive goals in a single Premier League campaign.
It is unknown whether Leicester City will pull off one of the greatest surprises in sporting history. But should Riyad Mahrez continue his spectacular form, terrorising defenders with his trickery, work ethic, accuracy and drive, there is no reason as to why him and the rest of the Leicester City locker room cannot end the season with Premier League winners medals hanging around their necks.