The African continent has produced a long list of extremely talented, hugely successful players. This article is the beginning of a series in honour of these men and women. Our first feature is on Algerian Riyad Mahrez.
Riyad Mahrez; Leicester City’s Shining Star
Riyad Mahrez is not a name that would have jumped to your head if you think of the best footballers in Africa. However, his current status as the reigning PFA Players’ Player of the Year would beg to differ. Also, his Premier League winner’s medal is a testament to his achievement.
Riyad was born on the 21st of February 1991in Sarcelles, France to Algerian parents. He presumably got his football talent from his father Ahmed, who was also a footballer. His family was a practicing Muslim family, as is par for the course in northern Africa. A lot of famous footballers have come from the northern parts of the continent, by the way. But Riyad stands out now, not just because of his Algerian heritage, but because of his achievements.
Mahrez began his career as a youth player for his birth town club AAS Sarcelles. He was not that physically imposing, a trait shared by most northern African footballers. However, he developed a set of skills with the ball. These skills were good enough for him to attract the attention of AAS Sarcelles. That was in 2004, though. Eventually, he had to leave the club. That he did in 2009, when he joined CFA side Quimper. He made 22 appearances and scored 2 goals in his first season with the club. That is a good haul for a player that was considered “too small”.
Riyad Mahrez joined Le Havre in 2009. He was discovered by Leicester City scout Steve Walsh, while monitoring Ryan Mendes, a Le Havre teammate. He impressed the scout so much that he was signed instead of Mendes. He made his debut on 25 January 2014. In that season, Leicester ended up as winners of the Championship, and returned to the Premier League for the first time in ten years. He played a very significant part in that victory.
Mahrez made his Premier League debut on 16 August 2014, and scored his first goal in the division on 4 October that same year. This was just the beginning of an impressive run of form, which led to his nomination for the Premier League Player of the Month in October 2015. In January 2016 Mahrez’s transfer value was said to have risen from £4.5 million to £30.1 million.
This means he is currently one of the most valuable players in Europe.His biggest success, though, came with Leicester City. Mahrez was one of four Leicester players named in the PFA Team of the Year in April 2016, and later that month he won the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award. He was the first African to earn the accolade. When Leicester finished the season as champions, Mahrez became the first Algerian to win a Premier League medal.
Riyad Mahrez has performed just as well for his country as for his club. After declaring his intention to play for Algeria, he was called up to the provisional Algerian squad for the 2014 World Cup. Mahrez made his international debut for the Desert Foxes as a starter in a pre-World Cup friendly match against Armenia, and he was subsequently called up to the full squad for the tournament. He scored his first international goal in Algeria’s 3–0 African Cup of Nations qualifier against Malawi. In December 2014 he was announced as a member of Algeria’s squad for the tournament, which was held in Guinea. He featured in every game as they reached the quarter-finals.
Mahrez is one of the biggest talents to come out of Africa in recent years. The fact that he was nominated for the 2016 Ballon d’Or alongside Lionel Messi, Cristiano and other superstars is a testament to that.