“Riyad Marhez ? Since when a obscur footballer from Leicester is good enough to sign with Olympique de Marseille?” This was Marseilles’ president Labrune answer to one of the french club’s scout proposition some months ago, during the 2015 Summer Window. Since then, how many changes in the life of that “obscure” Algerian player ! President Labrune should take more care about his” footbalistic “opinions !
Football is a funny game and Marhez’s quest for glory, a very slow and difficult one. Algeria’s International winger is only 24 years old (21/02/1991), but he began his career very early in his native country in AAS Sarcelles, France. His parents(Algerian father, Moroccan mother) stayed by his side and helped him during the hard time of several clubs’ refusals due to his slender build. “They said that I was so skinny that everyone could push me off the ball” recalls the 24 years old. “I had a good technique but physically I wasn’t strong nor fast. But I always worked hard. One manager at Quimper said to me that I’d should play without contact and be clever, because I wasn’t stong enough.”
Mohamed Coulibaly, the technical director of AAS Sarcelles agrees, telling L’Equipe that: “He was very frail, but he never gave up and that’s paying off. He has something more than technique, he has guts and character that make great players.”
Finally his skills found several suitors so that the youngster could join CFA side Quimper (2009) and signing a year later to FC Le Havre, turning out offers from French leading clubs like Paris st Germain and Olympique de Marseille, enticed as he was by Normandy’s club well-known Youth Academy; after all, someone called Paul Pogba, had led the way !
After playing for the club’s reserve team, he joined the big boys and played 60 games in Ligue 2 scoring 6 goals( 20011/20014). He left L2 because he didn’t like the defensive game and the club’s will to draw than win(or lose?)
On January 2014, he signed to English Championship club, Leicester City a three-and-a-half year contract, despite his friends and family doubts about that move, for English football’s physical nature wasn’t compatible with the players’ game.
Mahrez made several substitute appearances before manager Nigel Forest gave him his first cap in February 2014. Leicester won the title and returned to EPL for the first time in ten years. The Algerian winger played his first Premiere League game on 16 August 2014, scored his first goal vs Burnley (4/10/2014) and ended the season with four goals and three assists from 30 appearances.
In November 2013, the player chose Algeria over France and made his international début for the Dessert Foxes as a starter in a pre-world Cup friendly match against Armenia. On October 2014 he scored his first international goal vs Malawi (Africa Cup). He also featured in every Cup game untill Algeria reached the competition’s quarter-finals.
The story’s suite is already history; Leicester is this season’s success story and Mahrez is one of the leading actors with his teammate Jamie Vardy. Leicester did a good job signing this player for only 450.000 Euros; he’s worth many multiples of that now !
The player was very close to his former manager Nigel Pearson and was saddened when the club sacked him to sign Claudio Ranieri; “”Nigel was like a dad to me( Mahrez lost his father when he was fifteen) and gave me a lot of confidence. I was disappointed when he left, but the new coach(Ranieri) helped me a lot in training and he said that he would never change my game because he likes the way I play.”
The Italian manager stays close to his prized player; after Mahrez missed penalty vs Aston Villa, he told him;”come on, it doesn’t matter, everybody can miss a penalty, life doesn’t finish.” Ranieri also thinks that ” all the big players receive this kind of pressure, but for him is a new challenge. I’m very, very close to him and I want to help him.”
Jamie Vardy’s record breaking run of goals put the press’ highlights on him, but Marhez has been the team’s most effective player( 21 games, 13 goals, 7 assists ; not bad for 1.78 and 62 kg with his socks on !) Mahrez total contribution is bettered only by Pierre-Emeric Aubameyang, Neymar and Zlatan Ibrahimovic! Of course, one might say that the winger’s successful season is due to the team’s form and achievement on the pitch. Even if it’s true that the Algerian international likes to have space to run into, he is also able to break the lines by working his way out of tight situations. He’s able to create golden chances and Vardy frequently took on these opportunities to score ! Is he currently the best winger in Premier League? The season is not over, but if he’s not then he’s the second !(Mehmut Özil???)