The Algeria international was one of the most talked about players during last summer’s transfer window, but now he faces a period of uncertainty
This time last year, Riyad Mahrez had the footballing world at his feet. Voted the PFA Footballer of the Year at the age of just 25, it was no surprise to see him being linked with the biggest and best clubs Europe had to offer. The fact he chose to sign a new contract and remain a Leicester City player was widely heralded by fans and the media alike.
Fast forward 12 months, however, and the outlook seems decidedly gloomier for the Algeria international winger. Following what was, to say the least, a mixed season for the Foxes he immediately made it clear that he wanted to leave for pastures new.
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Normally a recent winner of the accolades Mahrez picked up would have been snapped up, particularly if the selling club were willing to let him go. Instead he finds himself midway through the summer without having had any concrete bids made for him.
Monaco were priced out of the deal before the window officially opened, and though widespread rumours are now linking Mahrez with Arsenal, they have only materialised in the aftermath of the Gunners seemingly having missed out on their No.1 target, Thomas Lemar.
“We have not made a bid for him but personally I like the player, yes,” Arsene Wenger said earlier this summer, but it was clear at the time he had others – most likely Lemar and Monaco team-mate Kylian Mbappe – on his mind.
“I think he had a huge impact at Leicester when they won the championship, like everybody else. It’s been a different season this year but it doesn’t take anything away from his qualities. Have we made a bid for him? No. Not yet. Not yet means it could happen, it could not happen.”
It may well come to pass that Mahrez does find himself at the Emirates Stadium come the end of August, but most who watched him inspire Leicester to the Premier League title during the 2015-16 campaign would likely have been shocked as to how difficult it would prove for the flying Fox to find a new club.
While he, like many of his team-mates alongside him, let himself down with his performances for Claudio Ranieri during the first half of the season, it is clear to see Mahrez still has the mercurial talent that most top clubs would be happy to accommodate. Finding the same consistent levels of two seasons ago remains the key to him eventually reaching the level of the Premier League’s elite stars, but he showed glimpses both in the Champions League and under Craig Shakespeare domestically that he is the kind of talent that troubles the very best defences, and a player who seems to thrive when asked to take centre stage in pressure situations.
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Quite how he would potentially fit in at Arsenal is another thing entirely. Mahrez himself has, on numerous occasions, stated that his preferred position is as a No.10 rather than on either flank, but if he is to be an alternative to Lemar and perhaps even a replacement for Manchester City target Alexis Sanchez then he will be back on the wing. Though such a role does allow a degree of freedom for him to run into and cause chaos, some of his best cameos for Leicester over the past two seasons have come when both Ranieri and Shakespeare have moved him centrally.
While the player himself is no doubt frustrated at a lack of movement regarding his future, the same can probably be said for Leicester themselves. Having to deal with an unhappy Mahrez for at least half of the season is not something many would envy, while in Demarai Gray they have a readymade replacement waiting, quite literally, in the wings.
The former Birmingham City youngster was one of the stars of England’s Under-21 side during their run to the semi-finals of the European Championships last month, and a large number of Leicester supporters are somewhat bemused as to why he has not been given more chances to prove himself in the first team. Reports suggest sides who finished above the Foxes last season have shown an interest in signing him if opportunities continue to prove evasive, and Mahrez’s departure would allow Shakespeare the perfect opening to throw the 21-year-old in on a regular basis.
For now, though, he will likely have to wait until Mahrez does in fact move on. Whether that happens at all before the window slams shut remains anyone’s guess.