Mahrez burns brighter than most for the Foxes
The street footballer with the slight build has proved everyone wrong this season
He had actually been playing fairly poorly of late. Opponents had been doubling up, showing him into traffic, stifling Leicester City’s sensational find. For a time there, it looked like Riyad Mahrez had been sussed out.
On this evidence, though, that was just wishful thinking. Mahrez was back with a bang against Swansea City, reminding us of the skills that make him so special and that earned him the crown of Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the Year in London last night,.
There is every chance now that he will be regarded in future years as a key part in one of the greatest sporting stories ever told. Supporters will reminisce about the way the Algeria international used to run with the ball, his incredibly wiry frame somehow withstanding the bumps and barges of this physical league.
Back in France, few of his friends and advisers ever thought this possible. They warned him not to come, not to take on the challenge, thinking his skinny build would get ruthlessly flattened.
But that is the beauty of football. If you are blessed with huge talent, as Mahrez undoubtedly is, history tells us that you do not have to be particularly strong as long as determination comes included in the package. Outright ability will find a way.
The 25-year- old certainly found a way here after Swansea’s captain, Ashley Williams, presented him with the ball early on in this match. With plenty still to do, Mahrez ducked inside on to his favoured left foot before giving ‘ the eyes’ to Lukas Fabianski in goal by shaping to shoot left before slotting the ball neatly inside the near post.
It was a finish of absolute class, not to say fantastic composure given the high stakes at this precarious stage of the season. It was also the goal that made Leicester’s afternoon so much more comfortable. From that point on, the result never looked in doubt as Mahrez set about displaying his considerable charms.
His confidence clearly boosted, the shimmies and touches started coming off, as did the passes, some outstandingly cute. Mahrez became pivotal to a joyous exhibition on a day when overbearing tension could easily have taken centre stage.
In his favour here, Mahrez is essentially a street footballer, someone who grew up in a northern suburb of Paris outside the confines of a structured academy. He and his mates would break into a local sports hall at one in the morning to kick a ball about for hours on end.
It was that kind of pure practice that honed his skills, rather than professional attention involving weights in the gym. That makes him different in this day and age. And don’t the fans just love it, as demonstrated by the car-park clamour to get a glimpse afterwards.
Before this match, Claudio Ranieri was emphatic. In Jamie Vardy’s absence, the Italian had poetically said, “We need Mahrez to be the light.” In the event, the King Power Stadium did not go short of blazing beacons. But as his fellow professionals acknowledged with last night’s award, Mahrez has burned brighter than most over the course of this unforgettable campaign.
Leading light: Riyad Mahrez scored the opening goal to put Leicester on their way