As he prepares to face his old side with Manchester City, Riyad Mahrez reflects on his time at Leicester City.
Mahrez was PFA Player of the Year in Leicester’s 2015/16 title-winning season, but he left the club in difficult circumstances in 2018 for Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
He was jeered by some Leicester fans on his return to the King Power Stadium, something he cannot fully understand, fans, and here in an exclusive interview with Sky Sports, the Algerian discusses the moment he believed Leicester could win the league in 2016, the circumstances surrounding him leaving the club, and what the future holds…
Mahrez on… thanks to Leicester
Mahrez joined Leicester in 2014 from Le Havre as a relatively unknown 21-year-old, but he was soon transformed into one of the Premier League’s top players.
“Leicester gave me everything, and obviously it’s because of them that I am where I am now, and what I achieved. It’s part of my career, and I cannot thank them enough.
“Vichai [Srivaddhanaprabha] was very special to me. When I see Leicester I still see him. Very important club and very important people in my heart.”
Premier League 2020/21 – All you need to knowPremier League ins and outsSign up for PL goal alertsMahrez on… That win at Man City
In Leicester’s 5000-1 title-winning season, Mahrez recalls how the 3-1 victory at Manchester City in February 2016 was the moment he realised they could win the league. But it didn’t all go Mahrez’s way before his stunning second-half goal…
“I remember at half-time, I thought I’d had a good half, and Ranieri started screaming at me saying: ‘I need more from you, you are sleeping.’ I came out of the dressing room fuming, and thinking: ‘What is he talking about?’
“Two minutes later I scored that goal, and it was special. I think we were a few points ahead of City, and if they’d won they would have levelled with us, and if we won we’d go six points ahead. When we did that, we thought: ‘This thing is weird, I don’t know where it’s going to end, but it’s weird!’
“Nobody said it, but lots of players thought about the title at that point. I remember talking about it with Kante, around December, we were top or second, and I said: ‘Listen, we try to finish top four, it’s going to be good, otherwise top six, but I don’t think we could do more than that.’
“Two months later you beat Man City, five points ahead, and all of a sudden it’s different thinking, you start thinking you can do it.”
Mahrez on… Leicester departure
Mahrez’s departure from Leicester in the summer of 2018 was a saga, but the Algerian insists the drawn-out process was down to the club themselves holding out for more money for their asset. He first announced he wanted to leave some 407 days before his actual departure, in May 2017.
“I didn’t understand why the fans booed me when I played there a year later with City. I was surprised to be fair. It was tough to go out of Leicester, but you cannot take away the things we did for the club, if the club are here now, it’s because of us, all these players who won the league.
“When you go there with another team, and the fans boo you, you are a bit disappointed. It’s just a few people, I know most of them are grateful for what we’ve done for the club, so it’s fine.
“I wanted to leave very good, but the club didn’t want to let me go nicely. They wanted to send me for too much [money], and at the end if it was difficult to leave it wasn’t my fault. But I don’t think it’s easy to leave from Leicester, when you see the prices that players leave for; after me it was Maguire, after that it was Chilwell, no small prices! At the end it is a business, they have to try to sell the players for as much as they can.
“People might think he forced to leave, I didn’t force, I just wanted to leave and it was difficult. That’s the explanation of this.”
Mahrez on… the future
Mahrez has reproduced his Leicester form in spurts at Manchester City, with Pep Guardiola often rotating the 29-year-old in a competitive frontline at the Etihad.
Asked if he has even more room to improve, Mahrez said: “Yes a lot. I am still 29. I still have a few good years to come. I feel like I am starting to be at my best. I know my body more, you know when you’re 29, it’s not like when you’re 24, and now you have more experience, you know how to play, when to do things. The most important thing is knowing how your body recovers, and you know how to deal with everything better.”