FT English Premier League Preview: How will Mahrez fair at Manchester City?
The Price Tag
Riyad Karim Mahrez could be the most expensive African player in history after sealing a £60 million move to Manchester City. The five-year deal is believed to reach an astounding £75 million with add-ons and would very much surpass the Congolese, Cedric Bakambu’s £65 million switch to Chinese Super League side, Beijing Guoan. The 27-year-old Algerian international has also become the Cityzens’ record signing, which speaks volumes about just how much the club admire and what is expected of him. This leads me to the first question many will be keen to see answered, whether Riyad will live up to his perceived value.
He has been to the mountain-top
Do you remember the fairytale of the 2015/16 Premier League season, where Leicester City lifted the trophy against all odds? Riyad was the man at the heart of Claudio Ranieri’s set up, terrorising opposition, creating chances, scoring goals - mostly from the right wing side, always cutting inside and slipping away from defenders with what became known as the ‘Mahrez chop’. His partnership with Jamie Vardy ensured the latter would also write his name in the English record books for quite a number of records. Even Riyad looked great on paper too, scoring 17 goals and serving up 11 assists. That year, 2016, became his ‘Mo Salah’ year getting all sorts of awards. In fact, he almost matches Salah on accolades received, except that he did not outscore his Leicester teammate who won the golden boot. Mahrez’s track record proves that he will unlikely be unfazed by the challenge of City who happens to be a town, subset of a world he has dominated before, a world that is English football. Lest I get carried away talking about the past, let’s look ahead into his City future.
New level, new heights, and new dreams
After being a subject of many failed attempts for a move away from Leicester since the fairytale season, Riyad finally got what most people wished for him. A bigger club, with a bigger fan base, top quality players, and definitely bigger dreams. He had reached a ceiling with the Foxes and with all due respect to Leicester, it wouldn’t have been a fun show seeing his immense ability and potential only in use to help a mid-table club stay afloat. In my opinion, Mahrez’s ability on the ball and to take-on players is second to only a handful of professional footballers all around the world. Since 2015/16 season, only Hazard, Sanchez and Zaha have completed more dribbles in the EPL. See the company he is keeping, Zaha is another African who actually deserves a blog post on this site. After a disappointing 2016/17 campaign with Leicester where he only managed 4 goals and 2 assists, Riyad redeemed himself in the follow-up, scoring 12 times and registering 10 assists. Under the mentorship of Pep Guardiola and the company of the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Leroy Sane, David Silva and Aguero, he is probably dreaming bigger. A champions league triumph perhaps, a place among the G.O.A.Ts of the football world maybe - the sky is really the limit now.
Will he actually get a real chance?
It is no secret that the Premier League champions have unparalleled depth in the quality of their squad. More so, given the attitude of the almost unpredictable tactician in Guardiola, no player is safe from sitting some matches out. Not even the record signing. Mahrez’s preferred position is on either wing, especially the right one, where Raheem Sterling largely operated from, scoring 18 Premier League goals from also serving up 11 assists. Bernardo Silva who is possibly City’s best player in the pre-season tour so far will also be vying for more minutes on either wing, let alone the Germany prodigal child, Leroy Sane who scooped the PFA Young Player of the Year Award in City’s title-winning season. I actually think Riyad could get some preference, especially on the right wing as he is able to hug the touchline, just like Sane does on the left - something that Guardiola once which Sterling has come up short of in recent times. He also offers something more, in terms of the ability to score long range shots, which we have hardly seen Sterling do. At the end of the day, only time will tell, but best guaranteed that whatever chance he gets, he will surely be keen to make the most of it. He is very much aware of the probabilities.
A few things to note out and keep an eye on include; the possibility of Riyad, Aubameyang, Salah, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita rivaling each other for the CAF African Player of the award, now that they are all a big parts of three of the best clubs in the EPL and the rest of the world. Could he possibly even compete for the golden boot if deployed in Sterling’s position, I mean, we are very much aware of his goal-scoring ability. The unsettling factor in the equation of predicting Riyad’s debut season at City is the possibility of injuries stepping in to take away all the fun. Just like any other footballer, he is not completely immune any. He has already survived a major scare in pre-season after being taken-off a pre-season match against Bayern Munich as a result of an ankle injury. Hopefully, it’s the last of it.
Let us know how you think Riyad will fair at City in the comment box below. Let the games begin!