Taking The Premier League By Storm
Riyad Mahrez has been nothing short of a sensation this season. Coupling his unparalleled confidence to carry possession with his natural eye for goal; when combined with the raw power and determination of Jamie Vardy – it’s no surprise that Leicester boast one of the most potent attack forces in the Premier league.
Joining Leicester City for just £400,000, Mahrez has been one of the main catalysts in Leicester hitting top spot in the Premier League heading into the final third of the season – the Algerian has personally added 16 invaluable goals to Leicester’s title challenge.
But with impressive form, comes the inevitable transfer speculation and the international star has already been linked with a host of top clubs across Europe, with Barcelona particularly keen to poach the skilful winger away from the King Power Stadium before the start of the 2016/17 season.
Mahrez signed a four-year contract in August but there is a growing expectation that the 25-year-old will leave Leicester in the summer. Barcelona have regularly scouted the £400,000 bargain buy this season and were encouraged when Mahrez admitted it had always been his dream to play at the Nou Camp, alongside his hero Lionel Messi.
Ranieri Not Blocking The Exits
Leicester City boss Claudio Ranieri has admitted that qualification for the Champions League could persuade Mahrez to stay, but he will reluctantly agree to sell the Algerian winger if he requests a move.
“We want to keep all our players. We believe in them. But if a player comes to me and says: ‘Boss, I want to go there because it’s my ambition to go there’. I’ll say: ‘Go and enjoy and have good luck’,” he said.
“I want only players who are happy to stay here, because sooner or later we grow up a lot. Of course not like Barcelona or Real Madrid – but Leicester will be a very good team.”
Ranieri publically warned Mahrez that any lapse in concentration will see him sat next to his manager on the bench:
“If I am Riyad I say: ‘There are a lot of teams who want me, OK, I have to show more if I want to go there. I have to show my best, because if I should do my best maybe they want to buy me.”
“But for now he must concentrate on the rest of the season with Leicester. If I see him thinking of other teams he comes with me on the bench.”
Why A Move To Barcelona Would Ruin Mahrez’s Career
For all the fairytale moves to Barcelona that result in players fulfilling their dreams and attaining European success, equally Barcelona has been a place where creative players have come to see their promising futures die.
If Mahrez moves to Barcelona at the end of his breakthrough season with Leicester City, it may well be the beginning of the end for the Algerian talent – here are three important reasons why:
The Move Is Too Soon For Mahrez
The man pictured above, as many Arsenal fans will fondly remember, is Aleksandr Hleb. The Belarusian, much like Mahrez in playing-style, broke onto the Premier League scene with the Gunners following a modest transfer in 2006.
Playing in a similar position as Mahrez, Hleb revitalised Arsenal’s midfield as Robert Pires moved into the twilight of his career. Hleb displayed some scintillating form during the 2006 season and was instrumental in leading Arsenal to their first and only Champions League final, where they lost to Barcelona.
Hleb was Arsenal’s standout player in a disappointing 2007/08 campaign and it wasn’t long before Barcelona were prowling for the playmakers signature – eventually agreeing a modest £15 million fee.
Battling for a spot in the Barcelona side with footballing greats Iniesta and Xavi, Hleb made only 19 appearances for the team; admitting the move was one of the biggest mistakes of his life:
‘Not a lot of players say no to Barcelona,’ he admitted. ‘But if I’d known what was going to happen I would have said no. It was my fault I left Arsenal. Yes, I won the Champions League but I didn’t play a lot and I lost my form and I lost a bit of my confidence.’
Hleb went on to play for six different clubs in four years after Barcelona released him and there is a possibility that Mahrez could suffer the same fate – a breakthrough star who could’ve flourished at his current club but took the move too early.
Mahrez Deserves More Than Being A Replacement Signing
Being bought by a club to replace an exiting or departed star is always a recipe for disaster – particularly if the star was a Barcelona cult hero.
It has been rumoured that Barcelona would move to sign Riyad Mahrez as a replacement for Pedro who left for Stamford Bridge last summer.
Barcelona have infamously tried to replace wingers like-for-like before, signing Premier League star Marc Overmars to fill the void left by Luis Figo.
The Catalonian giants paid €40 million for the Dutchman – and Emmanuel Petit – back in 2000, a massively inflated transfer for the time, such was their desperation to secure a winger who was equal in quality to the iconic Portuguese star.
Overmars’ performances were not even close to the standards set by the former Barcelona captain and understandably so. He was a good player at Arsenal but struggled to transition to the Nou Camp style of play; never reaching the unattainable heights he was expected to.
Mahrez has been phenomenal at Leicester City, as Marc Overmars was at Arsenal and it would be a shame for him to be considered a ‘replacement purchase’ rather than being an outright power signing. If Mahrez agrees to the role as as Pedro’s replacement, he essentially signs himself up to a Barcelona career of comparison to his predecessor – who boasts an impressive goalscoring record with the Spanish giants.
Mahrez Will Never Be Guaranteed A Starting Spot
It doesn’t matter how good Riyad Mahrez is, he will always be second choice to Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar – which one of those superstars is Luis Enrique going to sacrifice and risk upsetting, to make room for the Algerian?
Cesc Fabregas learnt this lesson the hard way. When the former La Masia pupil returned to his roots from the Emirates, he was greeted with a raucous reception; fans couldn’t wait to see how Guardiola would utilise the Spaniard alongside childhood friend Messi.
Pep Guardiola changed Barca’s 4-3-3 system to a 3-4-3 in 2011 so that Messi could stay as the team’s deep-lying centre forward and Fabregas could operate at the top of a midfield diamond.
The pairing was initially brilliant, but the strains of playing a back three soon meant the system was binned and so began the conundrum of finding a place for Fabregas.
Messi had stamped his mark on the ‘False 9’ role within the Nou Camp, operating as a withdrawn centre-forward – Fabregas did the same job for Spain at the 2012 European Championship and longed to do so in a Barcelona jersey, but he was never going to knock Messi out of the side.
Fabregas was forced to leave Barcelona if he wanted to resurrect his career and made the switch to join Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea side.
If Riyad Mahrez moves to Catalonia, it’s difficult to see anything but an uphill struggle for him to earn game-time. The MSN strike force is so finely tuned and potent, that unless a member of the trio suffers a long term injury, it’s difficult to see anywhere on the pitch where Mahrez could slot into the side.
Mahrez’s career would benefit from him remaining at Leicester and building on this seasons remarkable breakthrough. Starting regularly within the Premier League and likely to play on the Champions League stage, Mahrez has the potential to develop into a global superstar – he certainly has the talent.
If a move to Barcelona remains the Algerian’s dream then it is certainly a move that could be easily facilitated – but completing the move too early his career could ultimately harm his ability to reach his potential.