The Leicester exodus is starting to begin as many feared with Ngolo Kante leaving for Chelsea. After Jamie Vardy declined Arsenal earlier in the window and signed a new contract, there was hope that the club would be able to keep hold of their team for one more season and attack the Champions League. However, now Kante is leaving and reports suggest that Riyad Mahrez is interested in following the Frenchman out of the club. Mahrez was the side’s standout player last season and won PFA Player of the Year award in the process. He surprised many with his performances and developed into a Champions League player over the season.
Claudio Ranieri has spoken confidently about Mahrez’s future in the last week and said that his star man looked happy and wasn’t somebody that would force a transfer. However, he has since rejected a new contract deal and it is believed that he wants to join an elite club this summer, with PSG being linked to the Algerian international. The winger may think that his stock may not be this high again and he needs to cash in on a move while he can. Mahrez has seen his value sky rocket from £375,000 in 2014 when he joined Leicester to now. He could cost upwards of £35m and Leicester won’t sell easily.
At the age of 25, Mahrez has to make a decision about his future and it will decide whether he is a one season wonder or able to make the next step and become a Champions League calibre player consistently. Players have made the wrong moves before and it has stalled their careers, with some never reaching the levels that they could have been able to. Morgan Schneiderlin has struggled since moving to Manchester United, while Yohan Cabaye’s career regressed significantly during his spell with PSG. Even Raheem Sterling hasn’t had the impact that he expected when he joined Manchester City. Mahrez will have desires of being an important player at one of Europe’s big clubs, but he isn’t quite at this level yet and it would be a risk to move this summer.
His agent, Kamel Bengougam, told the Guardian in May:
“He is very happy with Leicester and of course it has been a fantastic season. They will play in the Champions League next year as well, so he would be happy to stay.
“But at his age, if the opportunity comes to play for a big team, then we would have to think about it. I’d say it’s 50/50 at the moment whether he stays or goes.”
It is certainly an interesting dilemma for Mahrez to be in as he isn’t unhappy at Leicester, but knows that a move to a big team may never arrive again. Leicester have Champions League football and he is guaranteed a place in their side, with relatively low expectations as well. This is a good environment for Mahrez to do well in and the team plays to his strengths. The Algerian international has a free role in attack and he thrives with such a role. He may never get this freedom again with any other side and that will also go into his thinking.
The recent developments suggest that Mahrez is leaning towards leaving the club and that may be a result of interest that has come his way during the summer. His agent may know that there is a big club ready to make a move, which is why Mahrez is beginning to make noises about wanting to leave. Arsenal have been linked with a move and that will certainly be one that fits well, as they are regulars in the Champions League. Also, Arsene Wenger gives his players time to settle in and will have known about Mahrez since an early age given the Frenchman’s knowledge of the game in his homeland.
Mahrez is still young and personally, I think another season at Leicester will be the best move for the attacker. They have Champions League football and play a system to get the best out of him. Also if he has another good season, he will have a bigger pedigree to take with him to an elite club, therefore furthering his chances of regular first team football. A move this summer may see him take a similar path to Sterling. The Manchester City winger has lost his confidence, while his development has halted. Mahrez is older than Sterling and can’t afford a similar setback. If he does move, he needs first team assurances and make sure it is a move to the right club. Mahrez has a lot of potential, but he hasn’t made it yet, this summer will be vital.