Riyad Mahrez – Manchester City’s street footballer with the X-factor

After pushing so hard to get to Manchester City, it would always be the case that Riyad Mahrez would be under increased scrutiny over how he fared at the Etihad Stadium.

He missed four days of training and Leicester’s next match when City’s first attempt to sign him collapsed. So when he eventually moved, six months later, he was expected to be more than just the supporting cast for a title triumph during his first campaign.

Now in his third season at the Etihad Stadium, he faces his old club this weekend in the form Leicester fans saw during the season when they produced the greatest Premier League title triumph in history.  

Clubs in Europe have been taking note of Mahrez’s numbers, and that he has two years left on his contract and now is the time City would look to make a decision on his future. Real Madrid are admirers of Mahrez should they look to sign a winger.  

His statistics have been consistent, particularly in home matches where he has been involved in 33 goals (17 scored, 16 assists) in his past 41 games. When City secure the title this season he will have played a key role, which is in contrast to his rookie campaign.

Regardless of whether Man City have won or not Mahrez will go home frustrated If he hasn't dribbled with the ball or made a break


Regardless of whether Man City have won or not Mahrez will go home frustrated If he hasn’t dribbled with the ball or made a break


Credit: GETTY IMAGES

Mahrez may have a winners’ medal to add to his collection but he barely started a Premier League game in the second half of that season. His campaign was defined by a late penalty miss at Anfield when better options to take the spot-kick were on the pitch.  

Last season belonged to Liverpool but Mahrez was starting to show the consistency that City wanted when they signed him for £60million, even if he was an unused substitute in the EFL Cup final win. In the current campaign he has stayed in the team for blocks of games as City have stormed towards the title.  

“He is a guy who dances on the pitch,” said Pep Guardiola. “He doesn’t lose balls on the pitch. He makes the extra pass. He attracts opponents on the pitch and after he makes a pass in behind.

“He makes fantastic crosses. We knew it. At Leicester, he was outstanding with Jamie Vardy. That’s why we pushed for him. We hope he can continue.”

When deciding Mahrez’s future, City will be aware that Mahrez has an X-factor that comes from playing football in the concrete cages of Sarcelles, a northern suburb of Paris. It was there he honed what street footballers call the “fake out and drag”. Mahrez opens his body and quickly closes his stance and is away. 

He explains in Concrete Football that his parents let him play all day and he never got formal training on how to dribble. 

“My friends were like my guinea pigs,” said. “I’d dribble them and they’d tackle me.  If I don’t dribble, I don’t feel good. Even if we win 4-0 , If I didn’t dribble or make a break, I’d go home frustrated.” 

It is this trickery, rather than pace, that explains why clubs would not see him being 30 as a major obstacle, should City want to freshen up their squad and bring in a player like Jack Grealish. Mahrez’s heroes are Lionel Messi and Arjen Robben who proved forwards can stay at the top in their 30s. 

When he moved to City he explained that he had “seen it all at Leicester” during his time at the King Power and wanted a new challenge after being part of one of the greatest stories in football. When he gets his third title-winners’ medal, there could yet be another chapter to his story. 

He was under no illusions over the competition for places when he arrived but has seen Leroy Sane depart and forced his way into Pep Guardiola’s plans more regularly. When he plays on Saturday he will have played as many games this season as he did in Leicester’s title-winning campaign. 

“That’s what’s specific to here, as our squad includes potential starters only, everybody is good enough to play,” Mahrez said. “We have two really good players in each position, so it’s great. Everybody challenges each other and tries to help one another improve. There’s competition among us and I think it’s a good thing.” 

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