Three years ago, very few people had heard the name Riyad Mahrez. The Algerian international was playing in the French second tier for Le Havre and was yet to play for his country. In fact, in the summer of 2013, he hadn’t even pledged allegiance to the African nation.
Just as very few had heard of Mahrez, the then 22-year-old had never heard of Leicester City, and when they declared their interest in him, he thought they were a rugby club.
Since then, however, his success has been unprecedented. He has been a key figure in Leicester’s journey from the Championship to winning the Premier League and, unsurprisingly, he has drawn the attention and interest of some of Europe’s biggest clubs – including Arsenal, if recent reports are to be believed.
Many have suggested that a move to Spanish giants Barcelona would suit Mahrez’s style, whilst others have insisted that he is better off staying at Leicester and being a first team regular in a campaign that will see them play Champions League football and also attempt to retain their Premier League title.
Teammate Jamie Vardy has already turned down a move to the Gunners after an explosive season of his own saw him finish the campaign in joint-second in the top-scoring charts, behind Tottenham’s Harry Kane.
But, since then, midfield powerhouse N’Golo Kante has joined Chelsea and Steve Walsh – assistant manager to Claudio Ranieri and the man that brought Mahrez to Leicester as the club’s chief scout – has left to take up a role at Everton.
Arsenal fans are often accused of being too expectant when it comes to making big-money moves in the transfer market. Despite signing Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Petr Cech in recent seasons, the fans still bemoan a perceived lack of ambition as Arsene Wenger refuses to break the bank for a top-class midfielder and striker.
This summer started promisingly though, with the capture of Granit Xhaka from Borussia Monchengladbach giving Gunners fans hope that Wenger was finally ready to listen to their demands.
Yet, the failure to sign Vardy, or any other striker thus far, has led to groans and concerns that Wenger will let another window pass him by without strengthening accordingly.
Ranieri has suggested that Mahrez would probably be on the bench at Arsenal, with the likes of Ozil, Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere already battling to play in Mahrez’s preferred advanced midfield role.
If he was able to repeat last season’s exploits that saw him win the PFA Player of the Year award, he would surely have no issues getting into the Arsenal side – especially when Ozil can be inconsistent and Cazorla and Wilshere have a history of injury problems.
Mahrez is undoubtedly a key man for Leicester, and he may want to have at least one more season as a key player, but should the Gunners come knocking, you have to imagine it is an offer that would be hard to turn down. A footballer’s career could be over in a split second, and the opportunity to move to a club like Arsenal seldom presents itself.
Leicester fans will never forget what Mahrez & co. have done for the club, and would be unlikely to resent him for leaving. Moreover, despite what the Foxes have achieved in the last 18 months, Arsenal is a big step up, and would represent a fresh challenge for the 25-year-old and the chance to cement his position as a Premier League star.