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Riyad Mahrez: Sympathy for the Rebel

A dissenting view on the transfer situation

Leicester City v Manchester United - FA Community Shield - Wembley Stadium

I know I’m in the minority here, but I feel for Riyad Mahrez and wish the club had been able to get a deal done for him this January. I understand full well that he is under contract and that the offer the Foxes received for him was well below market value, so I applaud City’s resolve, but that doesn’t mean that the Algerian doesn’t deserve some sympathy.

This January was the third time that Mahrez has tried to find a new club and the second time he’s turned in a transfer request (although it was a bit late in the day this time around). Until the last few days, he’s been professional and not openly disrupted the squad in his desire to leave.

Pictured: A man still playing very, very hard for his team (and a goalkeeper with no hope of stopping that shot).
Photo credit should read LINDSEY PARNABY/AFP/Getty Images

Remember that he was open to leaving the summer after we won the title and was rumoured to be off to either Chelsea or Arsenal. No concrete offers were made, and he stayed with the club. Did the lack of a move affect his form? It’s hard to say, but if it did, it appeared to affect the whole squad as our form was genuinely awful until about a year ago this month.

Last summer, he turned in a transfer request and seemed likely to be on the move. Leicester put a reasonable 50m valuation on him. Rumours had him going to Arsenal, Chelsea, or even Barcelona. A late report suggesting interest on the part of Jose Mourinho saw Mahrez jetting off to Manchester to get a deal done, only for him to learn that the report was incorrect and likely planted to disrupt moves to other clubs. In the end, the only concrete offer was from Roma for just under 30m, less than Chelsea paid for Danny Drinkwater.

Chelsea v Stoke City - Premier League
I still hate seeing this, but not as much as seeing Andy King in a Swansea kit.
Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

This January’s story is likely familiar to all: Claude Puel announced firmly that the winger would be staying at the club until summer and there was no reported interest from the big clubs until the last couple of days of the window. Manchester City made a late approach, offering up to 60m in cash or a cash+player deal supposedly worth 65m (always be skeptical of the player valuations in a cash+player scenario). Mahrez turned in a last minute transfer request, but Leicester stuck by their 95m valuation and there just wasn’t enough time left for negotiations.

So now Riyad has left the team and is upset by the whole situation. I find it hard to blame him. Much has been made of the fact that he’s under contract, which is true, but players almost never see out contracts with clubs these days. When players want moves, clubs frequently accommodate them as having players on your team who want to be elsewhere isn’t great for team chemistry. I don’t blame Leicester for holding on to him as the offers they’ve received haven’t come close to either their valuation or what constitutes market value these days, but that’s no comfort to our Algerian wizard.

In all of this, I think the most blame rests on Mahrez’ agent. How is it, in this day and age, that he does not have a release clause in his contract? A firm release clause would settle this entire issue, wouldn’t it? The matter of offers not meeting the club’s valuation would be moot; either meet the release clause or there will be no deal.

I don’t condone a player walking out on a club, especially when there’s no chance of a move for four months. Downing tools now won’t help force a move, it costs the player a good deal of money in fines, and it certainly doesn’t help the club. It’s not the smart move, but do I understand it? Of course I do, and I can’t say I’d be any happier if I were in his situation.