English Premiership

Mahrez stand-off gives Leicester boss Puel headache

2018-02-04 16:36
Riyad Mahrez (Twitter)

London - Riyad Mahrez's career is at a crossroads. With his dream move to Manchester City potentially in ruins, Leicester City boss Claude Puel faces a major challenge to get his star player back and performing.

The Algerian winger was missing for the 1-1 draw against Swansea City at the King Power Stadium on Saturday, having not trained since the Premier League leaders walked away from the negotiating table due to Leicester's astronomical demands.

Despite a second transfer request from the player in eight months, Leicester reportedly held out for a deal worth 80 million ($113 million, 91 million euros), with even City's cash-rich Abu Dhabi owners unwilling to go beyond 60 million.

Mahrez, 26, is unhappy that Leicester were determined to secure such a huge profit on a player they bought for a reported 350,000 from French second-division side Le Havre in 2014 and who played a pivotal role in the club's rise from the Championship to Premier League champions.

He was crowned players' player of the year during Leicester's remarkable title-winning campaign in 2015-16, scoring 17 Premier League goals, and then signed a four-year deal to help lead their Champions League charge.

Mahrez netted four times in the Champions League as Leicester again surpassed expectations as England's last side standing before narrowly losing out 2-1 on aggregate to Atletico Madrid in the quarter-finals, proving he was no one-season wonder.

Adding to Mahrez's ire is that other heroes of Leicester's title-winning triumph - N'Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater - have been allowed to leave for Chelsea with far less resistance.

And with City seemingly encouraged to make a move by injuries to Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus, there is no guarantee the runaway Premier League leaders will come calling again in the summer.

"I am fiercely ambitious and feel that now is the time to move on to a new experience," Mahrez said at the end of last season as he tried to force his way out.

Instead, he has again led a Leicester revival this season under Puel following Craig Shakespeare's sacking in October, scoring nine times in his past 20 outings.

Puel remains optimistic, saying Mahrez will return to the fold.

"He is our friend and I think all the staff and all the players will help him to come back with a good mentality and a positive attitude and to enjoy his football with his teammates," he said.

"Riyad is a good player but he is a good man also. I respect him. It's important to manage this with calm inside the club."

Should Mahrez back down, his next appearance could come at the Etihad Stadium against City when Leicester travel to Manchester next Saturday.

A Mahrez performance reminiscent of the one he delivered when Leicester ran riot in a 3-1 win two years ago, propelling them towards the title, could go a long way towards convincing City he remains the man they want for next season.

"Everybody knows we were trying but we cannot afford, in this moment, this amount of what they are asking," said City boss Pep Guardiola after Wednesday's 3-0 win over West Bromwich Albion.

"We are going to see what happens in the summer."

Guardiola named only six substitutes for Saturday's clash at Burnley due to City's mounting injury crisis, in a move some interpreted as a hint of his unhappiness about the club's unwillingness to sign Mahrez.

Come the end of the season, Leicester's hand may also finally be forced by the fact Mahrez will have two years left on his contract, the point at which many clubs choose to cash in before the value of their prized assets might depreciate.

Time will tell whether he gets another chance.

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