Speaking in an exclusive interview with Onze Mondial, Leicester City’s Algerian attacking midfielder and PFA Player of the Year 2016 Riyad Mahrez talked at length about his incredible season and what the future holds. Extracts.
On his route to stardom:
Yes, it is atypical. I think about that often. When I was younger, I was told: “Would you prefer to burn before breaking through or breaking through quietly by going through the middle?”, I would have opted for the second solution because with the first one, you are not certain to make it.
But in the end, I am super happy with what I have done. I burnt in order to get here and I am proud. I would not change my path for anything in the world.
On the French mentality:
Many youngsters continue to leave France for abroad. Before, they liked big guys, strong guys who ran quickly. What does that mean? And the others, what do they do then? When they saw what was happening in Spain and that Barca was winning everything, they started to change their opinion, to realise that you can play football in a different way.
And then, the French mentality changed a bit. People started to do drills aimed a keeping the ball in training, lots of small sided games… But just a little while ago, it was not like that in France. They cannot con me, I know the system…
On Leicester, what is the secret?
It is desire, brother! We are fighters! And when I say to you “fighters.” I have never seen anything like this in my life mate. The guys are there, they are hungry like crazy, and they let nothing go. The guy, you explode a mine straight into his face, he does not budge. He, he is there, his job is to defend, that is it. They love that. You will never see our defenders out of line, trying to dribble and making a pass through the gap.
Next, we have real midfielders. The signing of Ngolo Kanté has put Danny Drinkwater in the limelight. Because the pair complement each other superbly. And then, I am doing well this year, Jamie Vardy too. And we have a good coach. It is a bit of all of that.
On the secret of his success:
The birth of my daughter. She has put me in a good place. I think things clicked when she was born.
With the season you are having, you would be at the Euros in June if you had waited for the French national team…
A lot of people tell me that. I do not think about that much. I am with Algeria, it is my bread and butter. I am proud to be an Algerian international.
On the infamous email in January 2015 that Riyad Mahrez’s agent sent to Marseille offering the player that received an insulting response from Marseille President Vincent Labrune, who laughed the player off…
I was not aware of it at the time… I learnt about this story at the same time as everyone else.
On if he would have gone to Marseille if they had wanted him January 2015:
No because already, when it came down to it, I did not even want to go to Marseille. It was Kamel (his agent) who initiated things, to ask, to see. And the guys from Marseille answered in a way that we are all aware of. But me, I was happy in England in any case. I wanted to play for Marseille when I was young. But once I was at Leicester, I did not give a shit about going to play for Marseille.
Honestly, even if he (Marseille President Labrune) had said to me: “Sign for Marseille, we are counting on you,” I would not have gone. I promise you. Because there are too many players who slip through the net in France. Look, when you see N’Golo Kanté, I understand that clubs didn’t want to pay 8, 9 million Euros for him, that he was too expensive… That’s crazy! I am not saying that because he is my friend but honestly, he is really great.
They have become a very big club. PSG have proper players and the club is in the process of building a monster of a thing… I loved Marseille since I was little. Even today, I am not too excited about the prospect of PSG. It is my town, but I do not see myself going back to Panama.
On his future, what leagues interest you?
England, that is it.
When you were younger, you said: “I dream of playing for Barca, I will play for Barca…” Today, Barcelona are interested in you…
I heard that, like you, but… I do not really want to talk about things like that. That could be harmful for me.
Xavi said that he could see you there…
That is nice. It is flattering, especially when it comes from a player like that.
Are you aware that Nasser (Al Khelaifi, PSG President) dreams of having an Arabic player at PSG… Could you be that man?
Mmm, yes. I will not say that it is impossible. But I don’t really want to. I don’t really want to go back to France. France does not really excite me, I love England.