Why Riyad Mahrez should shed reluctant hero tag and join Arab greats

Riyad Mahrez, Manchester City's reluctant hero. (File/AFP)
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Updated 05 August 2020

Why Riyad Mahrez should shed reluctant hero tag and join Arab greats

  • The Algerian winger could be a few weeks away from his crowning glory
  • Beyond his goals, assists and medals, he is one of the most aesthetically pleasing players to watch in the Premier League

DUBAI: We should talk about Riyad Mahrez. Because, it seems, Riyad Mahrez doesn’t really like to talk about Riyad Mahrez.

Manchester City’s Algerian international is famously reticent when it comes to dealing with the media. For one of modern football’s most unique and successful talents, Mahrez remains an enigma; brilliant, instantly recognizable, and yet so often underrated.

Most fans would struggle to recall what his voice even sounds like. Though he has 5.5million followers on Instagram, and a further 2.2 million on Twitter, he mostly shuns the behind the scenes glamorous posts that so many footballers seem to enjoy in favor of match action shots. And there is no team of PR warriors shouting his achievements from the rooftops.

Which is a shame. One of the greatest Arab footballers of all time certainly deserves more. Except that, when the discussion of the greatest Arab or African footballers to play in Europe comes up, Mahrez rarely comes near the top.

A strong showing in the mini-champions League tournament over the next few weeks, starting with Friday’s round of 16 second leg against Real Madrid, could throw some gold dust on an already outstanding career.

Since his quiet introduction to the Premier League in 2014, Mahrez has been nothing short of a revelation; an enchanting, balletic footballer, whether gliding across the right wing to set up yet another chance for Jamie Vardy or Sergio Aguero, or cutting inside onto his magical left foot to score another stunning curling effort. Or, as he has done twice, winning the Premier League.

Beyond his goals, assists and medals, he is one of the most aesthetically pleasing players to watch in the Premier League, even the world.

So why does he struggle to gain the acclaim of other Arab and African footballers of past and present?

Like Karim Benzema in Spain, Mahrez is the right player, at the right place, at the right time. But not always, metaphorically speaking, the loudest of players.

By most metrics, Mohamed Salah takes some beating as the outstanding Arab footballer of modern times, perhaps ever. Since joining Liverpool in the summer of 2017, he has played a pivotal part in transforming the club from a fourth-placed team to proven winners, both in the Premier League and Champions League; twice won the Premier League Golden Boot, and also claimed the PFA Player of the Year in 2017-18.

Like Salah, Mahrez has won the Premier League in England, arguably the most high profile league in the world. In fact, he is one of only 11 players to have won it twice, first as the driving force behind Leicester City’s still scarcely believable 2015-16 title win (which also earned him the PFA Player of the Year award), and then as part of Pep Guardiola’s staggering collective at Manchester City in 2018-19. 

Unlike Salah, though, he has yet to win the Champions League. That could be about to change in a few weeks. Manchester City remain the favorites to win the delayed competition, now scheduled to conclude in Lisbon between 7th and 23rd of August.

Salah’s army of fans, from Liverpool to Cairo, rightly hail his every move.

But for Mahrez, there are no murals on neighborhood walls in New York or the Northwest of England. No string of television commercials. And no fashion magazine covers.

It is not for lack of achievement or talent either. You get the impression Mahrez just prefers it that way.

The 29-year-old, at first instance, might also suffer in comparison to one of Algeria’s greatest footballers.

Rabah Madjer achieved instant international fame when he scored in his nation’s finest hour-and-a-half, the 2-1 win against mighty West Germany at the 1982 World Cup in Spain. Five years, and many domestic titles later, he would return to haunt the Germans, scoring a remarkable back-heeled goal in Porto’s 1987 European Cup final win over Bayern Munich. Later that year he put on a man-of-the-match performance, and scored the winner, as Porto beat Penarol to claim the Intercontinental Cup in Tokyo.

Such iconic moments are hard to compete with. Yet Mahrez has many of his own.

In February 2016, Mahrez produced one of the Premier League’s most memorable individual performances of the last decade as Leicester defeated his future club Manchester City 3-1 at the Etihad stadium on the way to that stunning league title win. Even that early in the season, the Player of the Year award was in the bag.

And Premier League-centric viewers, at least those who don’t follow Manchester City, may have missed a truly outrageous stoppage time free-kick in a 2-1 win over Nigeria which secured Algeria’s place in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Cup. Where the home crowds had eagerly anticipated a Salah and Egypt triumph, it was Mahrez and Algeria that were crowned African champions after beating Senegal 1-0 in the final at Cairo International Stadium.

Again, and inexplicably, the achievement did not garner the global acclaim it deserved.

Perhaps the biggest reason for Mahrez’s understated reputation is the company he keeps. When you play in forward line alongside Aguero, Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva, Jesus Gabriel, David Silva and, above all, the peerless Kevin De Bruyne, the credit will inevitably be spread around.

Mahrez, a maverick at Leicester, has been transformed by Pep Guardiola into the perfect team player at Manchester City. An excellent return of 11 goals and 12 assists in the Premier League this season may not quite see him at the top of either chart. But, in addition to one goal and four assists in the Champions League, his numbers accurately illustrate a consistent, at times spectacular, overall contribution in a season where he has been one of the club’s most impressive forwards.

If all that still doesn’t make him one of the greatest Arab footballers of all time, perhaps a Champions League medal on August 23 finally will.


Team UAE rider Pogacar claims maiden Tour de France title

Updated 55 min 25 sec ago

Team UAE rider Pogacar claims maiden Tour de France title

  • Tadej Pogacar youngest man to win the race since Henri Cornet in 1904
  • Pogacar also won three stages in one of the most brilliant individual performances in recent Tour history

PARIS: Tadej Pogacar became the first Slovenian to win the Tour de France after he retained the yellow jersey in the 21st stage on Sunday, a day after he pulled off a major coup to take the overall lead.
While Sam Bennett won the final stage, the day belonged to Team UAE Emirates rider Pogacar, who will celebrate his 22nd birthday on Monday and is the youngest man to win the race since Henri Cornet in 1904.
Pogacar, who claimed the yellow jersey from a stunned Primoz Roglic with a monumental performance in Saturday’s time trial, also won the white jersey for the best Under-25 rider and the polka dot jersey for the mountains classification.
Roglic ended up second, 59 seconds behind, with Australian Richie Porte taking third place, 3:30 off the pace.
“This is an incredible feeling, standing here in Paris on the top of the podium. It was an amazing three weeks, an incredible journey,” said Pogacar after the first one-two for one country since Bradley Wiggins finished ahead of fellow Briton Chris Froome in 2012.
“I want to thank all those who made it happen. It was three memorable weeks on the French roads, with incredible crowds. I won’t find the words to express my feelings.”
Pogacar also won three stages in one of the most brilliant individual performances in recent Tour history, leaving Roglic’s dominant Jumbo-Visma team wondering what went wrong.
“We didn’t see it coming,” said Roglic’s team mate and former Tour runner-up Tom Dumoulin.
Bennett became the first Irishman since Sean Kelly in 1989 to win the green jersey for the points classification, ahead of Peter Sagan who was looking to claim it for a record-extending eighth time.
Bennett was the strongest at the end of the 122-km ride from Mantes-la Jolie on Sunday, beating world champion Mads Pedersen, with Sagan coming home third.
Swiss Marc Hirschi, the former Under-23 world champion was voted the most aggressive on the race after notably taking a brilliant win in the longest stage of the 107th edition.
Ineos-Grenadiers had a Tour to forget as defending champion Egan Bernal dropped out of contention in the Jura stage to the Grand Colombier, pulling out a few days later with back pains.
They recovered some pride later on, however, as Michal Kwiatkowski, their unsung hero for five years, claimed an emotional stage win — although that was certainly not enough for a team who had won seven of the previous eight editions.
It was an anti-climatic finale on the Champs-Elysees as only 5,000 fans were allowed on the famous avenue as a precaution against the coronavirus.
France reported 13,498 new confirmed COVID-19 cases over the previous 24 hours on Saturday, setting another record in daily additional infections since the start of the epidemic.
Reaching the Champs-Elysees was, however, a relief for organizers, who had imposed strict sanitary rules to protect the race ‘bubble’.
The bubble did not burst as only four team staff members tested positive and were removed from the race, preventing a spread that could have stopped the Tour.
No rider tested positive.