Riyad Mahrez has been one of Manchester City’s most consistent stars this season as he looks to win the fifth Premier League title of his career. However, the player was fearful that he had lost his opportunity to play at the very top level previously, before heading to the Etihad Stadium.
Mahrez came through the academy at Quimper before being pinched by Le Havre, who accelerated the then-teenager’s progress massively by giving him regular opportunities in the Ligue 2. The winger’s performances began to capture the attention of several French sides, but Leicester swooped in to secure for a fee of just £450,000 having impressed their scouts when they were monitoring other Players.
The winger hit the ground running in the Championship and helped the Foxes to win the title, before featuring regularly in the Premier League. Mahrez was unable to make too significant of an impact in his debut campaign in the English top flight – largely due to their relegation battle – but flourished in his second season.
The Algeria international scored 17 in 37 league appearances and remarkably helped Leicester to the title against all odds, shaking the footballing world. Mahrez was a key part of the success and understandably became sought after, with Arsenal leading the race to secure his signature.
Despite N’Golo Kante being allowed to leave for Chelsea that summer and Danny Drinkwater following suit in the following year, Leicester outright refused to let Mahrez leave – despite offers from Arsenal, amongst others. The forward was left furious in consecutive campaigns about not being cashed in on, refusing to arrive to training on occasions in a desperate attempt to force through a move and going public with his discontent in several interviews - notably about a move to north London being blocked.
After a drama-filled January 2018, where a move to City fell through, Mahrez was granted his long-awaited transfer to the Etihad Stadium six months later for a fee of £60million. The winger was desperate to work under Pep Guardiola and cited the former Barcelona boss as a fundamental reason why he wanted to join City rather than other clubs.
Speaking after the move was confirmed, Mahrez said: “I am so pleased to have joined City, a side playing great football under Pep Guardiola. Watching them from afar has been a pleasure. I think we can be successful over the coming years and I believe my own game can develop under Pep's management."
Although he provided so much to Leicester, the blips along the way did overshadow some of his highlights on occasions. Especially as he felt the club held him back two years, telling France football in 2019: "After the title, if I'd left for a top team, it wouldn't have been the same story. For me, it's clear that I lost two years at the highest level. I lost two years! Because instead of arriving at City at 27, I could have been there at 24, 25. Leicester blocked me.
“They told me: 'You're not leaving, you're not leaving’. My agent had spoken to [Arsene] Wenger who really wanted me. It was nearly all done with Arsenal in 2016. I was really frustrated." Though that will not matter to Mahrez now, who has certainly improved since joining City and being able to work with a star-studded team appears to have brought out the very best in him.
The winger has remained central to City’s plans regardless of the constant flow of new signings arriving at the club, and his consistency was rewarded last year with a bumper contract until 2025. It remains to be seen whether he can continue to be as successful at the club in the years to come.