Riyad Mahrez is probably the best “pound for pound” signing in the Premier League era. The £400,000 paid to Le Havre in 2014 has had the most impact of any budget player purchased by any club. Free transfers such as James Milner, Man City to Liverpool, although “free” have huge wages and a huge signing on fee attached, so do not remotely resemble the bargain the £400k Mahrez and the £1m Leicester paid to Fleetwood Town for Jamie Vardy represent.
Seamus Coleman, the £60,000 buy from Sligo Rovers in 2008, or Joe Hart as a £500,000 buy from Shrewsbury Town probably come closest in the value stakes to Mahrez. Le Havre have a very good record of unearthing talent with Dimitri Payet, Paul Pogba and Lassana Diarra all starting their football education there.
Mahrez is of Algerian descent and Algeria has produced some sublime talent with Zinedine Zidane coming from Algerian descent but choosing to play for France; the same as Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri (also Nabil Bentaleb of Spurs). The inclusion of Mahrez in the Algerian team in the World Cup of 2014 and the Algerian’s run to the round of 16 obviously helped his development and confidence.
Mahrez has 11 assists and 16 goals and holds the record for the most match winning goals of any Premier League player this year. Although predominantly left footed, he scored equally adeptly with his right foot in the 3-1 win versus Manchester City. One of the assists of the season was the one touch assist for Andy King in the 2-2 draw with WBA.
Mahrez combines pace, trickery, game intelligence, and superb athleticism. Confidence has grown throughout the Leicester squad and he has benefitted from the sterling job by Kante in the defensive midfield duties freeing Mahrez to wander more freely.
Vardy’s form has dipped, but Mahrez has consistently performed throughout the 31 Premier League games. Even though defenders are doubling up on Mahrez, it hasn’t affected his effectiveness; his temperament is not affected by the attempted shackling and he has risen to the challenge with relish.
Nigel Pearson, the previous Leicester manager, deserves huge credit for persevering with Mahrez and their head of talent spotting Steve Walsh also deserves a mention. The trio of Mahrez, Vardy and N’Golo Kante will take some beating at a combined £7m fee. Mahrez has an almost telepathic relationship with Vardy and they are reaping the rewards of playing together for 2.5 years.
Mahrez’s record of 79 games and 23 goals, almost 1 in 3 games is level with midfield stalwarts like Lampard and Gerrard. Mahrez like Vardy has given immense hope to lower league players chasing their dream. Claudio Ranieri has improved Mahrez with his greater defensive discipline and improving his defensive work ethic.
The creativity of Leicester has largely landed on the shoulders of Mahrez and even as the stakes have risen his performances have improved. Mahrez deserves recognition as the Player of the Season, helping this Leicester team to punch above its weight in this amazing season. As most managers like Tony Pulis and Mark Hughes have said it will be immensely refreshing for the Premier League if Leicester win it.