On Sunday, Algeria’s Riyad Mahrez became the first African player to win the prestigious Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) awards and this Sunday he stands the chance of being a Premier League winner.
It would be a nice story of someone whose journey to the professional football started when he joined an academy at 19- an age where Messi had scored 17 goals in 38 games and Aguero was third highest goal scorer in La Liga.
Born on 21st of February, 1991 in Sarcelles, France, a place where Mahrez would describe as a dangerous ghetto with vandalism and petty crimes a common theme in the Paris suburb.
However it would be the place to start this year’s PFA Player of the Year’s journey, a journey he would start at the age of five.
Little Mahrez would skip meals just to play ball and would attribute his skinny feature to his regular missing of meals.
Childhood pictures of Mahrez all have a common feature, the small Algerian child having a ball beside him, such passion would see Mahrez stay in the gym playing into the early hours of the morning, practicing dribbling skills we are lucky to witness this season that look nothing of coaching but innate.
The street footballer - The professional journey, from the street to a proper career, would not kickoff easily. Every year, scouts flooded Sarcelles and take the best players away to their academies.
It was like a tradition one that Riyad Mahrez could only wonder if he would take part of. His sacrifice of skipping meals had come to hunt him. Mahrez was overlooked year after year because of his frame, lack of pace, and inability to main a first team spot.
It did not deter him and passion led him on because there was only one job- to become a footballer.
Mahrez would take a further blow when he would lose his father to a heart condition, his father had wished his son would become a professional footballer taking Riyad to and from games and as Riyad put it, his success today bows down and is dedicated to him.
At 18, Mahrez would finally break into the first team and would join Quimper, a team in France’s fourth tier.
Progressively, the following season he would join second division Le Harve, a team that has housed the likes of Pau Pogba and Dimitri Payet, playing for their reserves, and the next season he would crack into the first team.
Leicester would come calling taking a gamble on a boy who judged too frail for the rigors of English football, £400,000 move that would see Riyad in two years valued at £30.1m.
In 2014, Mahrez would make his international debut for Algeria after opting to choose to play for Desert Foxes in 2013.
The African continent more than happy to enjoy the successes of her own with fandom for Leicester City rising on the continent especially in Algeria.
|Mahrez with Vardy and Schmeichel after the Foxes won the championship|
The 2015/2016 season caught us off-guard. 17 goals and 11 assists have seen him contribute to 28 of the 63 goals scored by Leicester, roughly 44% of the total contribution.
This season has seen him being played out wide with Ranieri preferring the Algerian to have more match-up duels and capitalize on his ability to cut inside with utmost finesse. 1 in 5 of his shots have resulted in goals, and is averaging a goal every other game.
For a team that operates mostly on the break, lack of possession generally would limit his contribution to the team, the stats do justice in proving Leicester's efficiency and Mahrez's effectiveness.
His body frame has not been deterrence on his defensive duties; the winger can bodly boast of a 71% tackle win percentage. He has dealt with the demands of the league, playing 34 of their current 35 games with only one coming from the bench.
Second in the league in successful dribbles and fouls suffered, the little guy from Sarcelles has become a big worry for opposing defenders.
Last Sunday, win for Leicester City at Old Trafford would see Mahrez become a Premier League winner, joining the likes of Kanu Nwankwo, Didier Drogba, John Mikel Obi etc. notable African players to have that feather in their cap.
The wing magician can proudly stand tall in this class with the history of being the first African player to win the PFA Player of the Year award- a feat which second to achieve comes with its bouts of amnesia.