Mahrez burns brighter than most for the Foxes

The street foot­baller with the slight build has proved ev­ery­one wrong this sea­son

The Daily Telegraph - Total Football - - TOTAL FOOTBALL -

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

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