Riyad Mahrez joined Leicester City from Le Havre for just £450,000 in January 2014. The Algerian arrived from the port-city as a completely unknown entity to all those outside of his new club and avid fans of French Ligue 2 football.
Now though, four years later and as a Premier League winner with the Foxes, he has completed a £60m move to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City – becoming their record signing in the process.
Back in 2014 when he first joined, Leicester were still competing in the Championship and Mahrez was a skinny winger who many thought would be too lightweight for English football. In fact, Leicester’s scout was only in Le Havre to watch the Algerian’s teammate Ryan Mendes, who spent the 2015/16 season on loan at Nottingham Forest but has now just signed for Sharjah FC in the United Arab Emirates.
After just a month at the club and a few substitute appearances, Leicester boss Nigel Pearson announced that Mahrez was ready to start matches and Leicester went on to gain promotion to the Prem as winners of the Championship.
The first season in the Prem after promotion is always about consolidating and avoiding relegation, and for Leicester, who looked all but down at more than one point, this was achieved via a great escape, as they won seven of their last nine league matches to finish 14th.
Then came 2015/16. What more is there to say that hasn’t already been said? Mahrez scored 17 goals, provided 10 assists (of which most were for Jamie Vardy) and won the PFA Player of the Year trophy as Leicester made history, becoming 5000/1 winners of the Premier League.
After that memorable season, Mahrez gave an interview to FourFourTwo magazine in which he admitted that he hadn’t even known that Leicester had a football club before he joined the club. Perhaps even worse, he’d thought they were simply a rugby club.
Now, thanks to ‘that’ season, the 27-year-old has helped to put Leicester on the world footballing map.
However, in these situations the club’s never get the credit. Leicester should be praised for doing just as much for Mahrez as he has done for them and now he’s got his dream move to the big time.
It was a gamble to bring the tricky, and slightly lazy, winger to the King Power and they gave him the chance to prove himself and get minutes under his belt before he became the main man for Claudio Ranieri.
City fans will be hoping that Mahrez brings to the Etihad the kind of form that saw him tear up Manuel Pellegrini’s side in February 2015. A 3-1 victory then saw Leicester go five points clear and that could be pinpointed as the moment many started to believe.
Born in Paris to an Algerian father and Moroccan mother, Mahrez was once considered not good enough by the board at Quimper, an amateur team then in France’s fourth tier. Leicester took a chance when signing him back in 2014 and the huge profit made on his sale is testament to the work put in to developing him as a player and making him the dangerous attacking force he is today.
Mahrez may not have known who Leicester were before, but he will certainly never forget them now.