February 26, 2017 5:40:40 pm
In April 2016, a suave-looking Riyad Mahrez, wearing a shiny black three-piece tuxedo, sporting a wide grin, walked up the stairs in the exhibition hall at Grosvenor Hotel in London, to receive his PFA Player of the Year trophy. Scoring 25 goals in 27 games in the 2015-16 season made the Algerian one of the most sought after footballers all around the world. The season was almost coming to an end, and Leicester was on its way to pull off a miraculous Premiere League title win. But, rumours were already making rounds regarding Mahrez’s future at the club.
Born and brought up by an Algerian father and Morroccan mother in Sarcelles, an impoverished and crime-ridden village in France, Mahrez had to fight against poverty, crime and riots to make it into professional football. His mother, Saliha, who still lived in the same village, in an interview to Daily Mail last year, said, “It’s too rough and there’s a lot of jealousy over Riyad’s success from guys he grew up with. I want to get away from here. We should be out of here in a few weeks.”
Amid his personal situation, it must not have been an easy decision for the 25-year old winger to turn down an offer from Arsenal. The Gunners made their interest in the Algerian official during summer transfer window in 2016, reportedly bidding up to £35 million. It was an opportunity for Mahrez to play for one of the biggest clubs in England. It might have also meant getting a higher salary, and a chance to play along with some of the best players in the world such as Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil. Regular Champions League football would also be a strong possibility.
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Just after Mahrez reportedly rejected an £80,000 offer from Leicester, the (now, former) manager Claudio Ranieiri said Mahrez does not need to go to a club with many stars as he might have to sit on the bench. “I know him very well and I understand when he plays so-so and I can permit to stay on the pitch. With another manager, when he plays so-so, there are so many other stars,” Ranieri said. Two weeks later, Mahrez decided he will be staying at the club and signed a new £100,000 deal with the club.
So did another star striker, Jamie Vardy. With 24 goals in the season for the Champions, the Englishman was reportedly offered a contract by Arsenal. But Vardy decided to remain ‘loyal’ to the club and went on to sign a four-year contract. The 30-year old striker said after announcing his decision, “I’ve always said the brotherhood at Leicester is unbelievable… It wasn’t that big a decision, it was quite easy, this is where I wanted to be.”
More than half-way into the new season, things have changed for the Foxes. The goals have dried for both the star players. Both have scored only seven goals each this season. Leicester City have dropped into the bottom zone after Saturday’s games which saw Crystal Palace climb out of the bottom three. The Champion’s League dream is also on the brink of collapse with Sevilla winning the first leg 2-1 at home. In a highly criticised move, the club owners then sacked Ranieri – just nine months after winning the title.
The players who stayed at the club to show ‘loyalty’ towards their manager, are now having to defend their roles in Ranieri’s exit. The plethora of away fans garnered by the club have turned their backs, now posting messages hoping for their relegation. Meanwhile, the manager who put the team on the map, and later ensured the team does not lose out on its two main strikers, is sent off.
Vardy and Mahrez’s future at the club also comes into question, since no one can predict whether the two out-of-form players will be able to find themselves in favour with the upcoming new manager. Even if the two remain with the club, it is hard to predict whether they will find their names in the first-sheet. Considering, Leicester might face relegation this season, both the players might not get to feature in Premiere League the next season. After an-off season, not many big teams might vie to buy them in the summer transfer window, certainly not Arsenal.
This is the price one pays for being ‘loyal’ to a club in modern-day football, which is ever-changing. The players who chose to play under Ranieri, rather than moving on to a bigger club, will have to learn a way to survive without him. And the manager, who brought to the club its biggest ever victory, now finds himself out of a job.
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