Leicester's Riyad Mahrez to consider future in summer
By Patrick Davison
Last Updated: 13/05/17 12:26pm
As Leicester prepare to face Manchester City, live on Sky Sports, Riyad Mahrez tells Patrick Davison about the "weird" summer that followed Premier League glory, his struggle to return to form and where his future might lie...
Being a champion turned out to be harder than Riyad Mahrez expected.
After an incredible season as the creative inspiration behind one of the greatest sporting stories ever told, you'd have thought he'd have spent the summer in a smiley daze; picking up awards, being routinely patted on the back by everyone he bumped into.
The reality was a little different to that. Life became confusing. Big clubs, giant clubs were reportedly showing an interest.
"It was a weird summer for me because everyone was asking, 'Is he going here or there?'," says Mahrez, who was torn between loyalty to the miracle-makers and an opportunity he may never get again to join one of world football's finest.
For a time his future hung in the balance. In fact, it was more than that.
He said: "At first I wanted to go. When you do a season like I did, you start thinking, 'You have to take this train, maybe it won't come again'.
"There are big clubs, you don't know what's going to happen. Are they going to come back for you in two seasons or three seasons? You don't know.
"Then you have some people around you who have their opinion, your family as well. In the end, though every person has a choice and [in the end] I was thinking I prefer to stay and I don't regret it. It was a good choice."
Initially though, as the season got underway, it looked like he might have been better off jumping on the train to one of his summer suitors.
The team struggled to get anywhere close to the form they'd shown just a few months earlier. So, in truth, did he.
"When you start the league everyone is on you, I always had like three players on me," Mahrez said. "Last season, it could get switched to me and I would be one against one with the full back, now, never, no chance - three players on me is normal.
"We don't have a team of big, big players. Obviously, we have good players and a good team but when you have lots of big stars in your team, the opposition are not just going to focus on you, but this season it was like that for me and Vards."
A slow start became a relegation battle and a crisis which would eventually cost Claudio Ranieri his job.
"It was tough, the first six months were really, really tough," the 26-year-old said. "We were losing games at home, then in away matches I was going into some games and I was like, 'we're not going to win this game'. You could just feel it was different."
Different until the change of manager which has sparked a run of seven wins in 10 games, an upturn in Mahrez's own form and got them, comfortably in the end, to safety.
Mahrez said: "It's the change [which caused the turnaround]. A different mentality, different training sessions and everyone is on it again. It's sad for Claudio because we were good with him and I liked him as a man and a manager as well but we have to thank Shakey.
"It's not the same when you become manager after being assistant but with Shakey he didn't change. He didn't start screaming and showing everyone he's the manager. That's why he had the success he's deserves."
I want to play Champions League every year, I want to be at a big club and win trophies, that's my target.
Now another summer looms, another bout of speculation about Mahrez's future is already underway.
"I'm not really thinking about this summer yet, let's finish this season and we'll see," is his answer when I ask him what he wants to do.
"There's still three games to go, still some good games to play. I don't want to put something in my head. At the moment I'm in Leicester, I'm happy and we'll see."
This season Mahrez got his first taste of the Champions League and probably played his best football of the campaign in that competition. Of course, next season Leicester won't be involved and that may make it even harder for them to hold on to their playmaker.
"I want to play Champions League every year, I want to be at a big club and win trophies, that's my target," he says.
Can he do at least some of those things here is my next question.
"Why not? We'll see," is the reply.
Sounds like it might be another weird summer.