RIYADH: Riyad Mahrez has thanked fans in the Middle East for their loyal support ahead of Manchester City’s first ever appearance in the Champions League final.
The Premier League and EFL (English Football League) Cup winners will be looking to secure a third trophy of the campaign when they face English rivals Chelsea in Portugal on Saturday.
Mahrez’s influence on the team has spiked this season, with the Algerian international scoring both goals in the semi-final second leg victory over Paris Saint-Germain (PSG). He is now expected to be a key figure in what will arguably be the biggest game in Manchester City’s history.
“I think the longer you are with a team the easier it is to settle into the way of playing, to know what is expected of you and how your teammates play too,” Mahrez said.
“That is really important. This season is my third year here and I know the manager, I know the players, I know the system better than ever. After that it’s just about working hard and performing, and I hope I’ve done that this season.
“It’s a huge moment for everyone in the team, something you dream of as a kid. We’ve obviously wanted to get to this stage for a long time and now we’re here, we want to make sure we lift the trophy.
“We’ve played really strong teams to get here, and those games weren’t easy. There were moments against Dortmund and PSG when people would have looked at us and said maybe they won’t make it. But we came together as a group and now we play maybe the biggest games of our club careers.
“It’s a dream for any player to play at this level and we’re looking to go out there and do what we can to win,” he added.
Having signed for Manchester City from Leicester – where he had won the Premier League title – in 2018, Mahrez, at 30, is one of City’s more experienced players.
He said: “It’s strange as a footballer. You come through the system as a young kid, you break into the team, you’re the young one in the squad and then all of a sudden, you’re one of the more experienced players. But I enjoy it.
“There’s a strong group of players here and the only difference I suppose is what we’ve all done on the way to joining Manchester City.”
Last month, Manchester City took part in a four-day English football social media boycott to protest against the sustained discriminatory abuse received online by players and others connected to the game.
“We all have experiences that we can share, difficult moments we found a way through and we try to do that across the squad. Obviously, it’s important to help the young guys as much as we can because they have so much talent and just need bits of advice here and there to help them along their own paths,” Mahrez added.
Social media can, however, be a useful tool for the modern footballer, and Mahrez said it had allowed him to stay connected to his huge global fanbase, particularly in the Middle East.
“I hope that my social media keeps all my fans feeling connected to what I’m doing here in England. I certainly feel the love from the guys who support me on there.
“These guys push you to be better and make you proud to play at the top level because every football fan dreams of what we get to do and that’s very special. I hope they feel part of my journey here and I’m just so grateful for all their support.
“Ramadan is obviously an important time for me like it is for so many people. Eid is also incredibly special. Both were good this year and I hope that was the same for everyone,” he added.
The 2020/21 season has been a hugely successful one for City – and Mahrez – so far and could get significantly better on Saturday as Pep Guardiola’s men chase the biggest prize of them all.
Mahrez said: “I just want to say a big thank you to everyone who supports the club. It’s been a strange season where we’ve not been able to see the fans and have them with us at games, but we know that everyone is watching and cheering us on from home.
“In the difficult moments out on the pitch, that idea can really push you on to achieve, so everyone is so important to this success.
“We have already won the League Cup and the Premier League for our fans and the final will be special, so everyone should enjoy it and hopefully we can win the trophy for everyone out there who loves City.”