One of the stories taking over the transfer rumour mill this week has been the future of Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez, and a possible move to clubs including Tottenham Hotspur. The Algeria international rejected advances from ‘bigger’ clubs last summer in order to renew with the Foxes, and for good reason.
After all, he had just helped the club achieve the impossible in winning the Premier League, and had a fun Champions League campaign surrounded by all his teammates to look forward to.
However, with all that excitement now behind him and Claudio Ranieri enjoying the delights of daytime TV after losing his job, things have changed. Leicester came far closer to returning to the Championship than they would have wanted, and even if they are now safe, their league campaign has been underwhelming to say the least.
Don’t get us wrong, no one ever expected them to win back to back titles, far from it, but, having managed to keep hold of the vast majority of their title winning squad, flirting with Europa League spots would have been a reasonable goal at the start of the season.
When a team underperforms, the general output of the players comprising it drops too, and that was the case for Riyad Mahrez. Scoring 18 goals and picking up 10 assists last season in 39 games, Mahrez’s numbers this time around are less impressive, with 10 goals and seven assists to his name in 45 appearances.
While that doesn’t seem too bad, it’s also worth pointing out that five of those 10 goals are penalties. Still, this hasn’t stopped the rumours of an exit reemerging, with the list of suitors after him as impressive as it was last season.
In France, the main story is a reported interest from Paris Saint-Germain, as opposed to Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham or elsewhere in the Premier League, yet that move seems very unlikely for a couple of reasons.
First, and most importantly, Mahrez has no intention to return to the city he grew up near anytime soon, as he made explicitly clear last year to Onze Mondial.
He said: “I loved Marseille when I was little. Even today, Paris doesn’t make me dream. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I really don’t want to return to France. France doesn’t attract me at all, I love England.”
Secondly, Paris Saint-Germain are already swamped in his position, with the likes of Hatem Ben Arfa, Angel Di Maria, Lucas, Julian Draxler, Jesé (when he returns from his poor loan at Las Palmas), Giovanni Lo Celso and Gonçalo Guedes all capable of playing down the right in some shape or form.
Then there’s the odd Barcelona story that pops up every couple of days.
Even if the prospect of playing with the likes of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar would make anyone dream, how often would Mahrez actually be on the pitch at the same time as them?
This is where Tottenham’s reported interest in the Leicester City star makes the most sense.
Everyone saw how important Erik Lamela was to Mauricio Pochettino’s plans last year, with the Argentinean forward scoring 11 goals and providing 10 assists, and while they’ve coped rather well without him since his hip injury, there have been a few games when his ability to create something out of thin air has been missed.
The concerns surrounding his ability to fully recover from his injury have led to speculation this year could be his last at White Hart Lane, with Spurs reportedly open to the idea of selling him.
Looking back at how successful he was in Italy, a handful of clubs in Serie A are likely to be open to the idea of bringing him back, and with the growing investment in the league, Tottenham could still end up making a pretty penny from his sale.
This is where Mahrez comes in.
Mahrez is the kind of player that could, especially with the supporting cast around him, take Tottenham to that next level, the one that could make them real contenders.
They have the goalkeeper, they have the centre-backs, they have the full-backs, they have the enforcers, they have the prodigy, the creative fulcrum and the clinical finisher, and boy do they play well as a team.
But when the going gets tough, when everything they’ve been so good at fails, you can see something is lacking, and that’s what someone like Mahrez can provide.
You want someone in your team capable of dribbling past three players to unlock a difficult situation.
At Tottenham, the top dribbler is Mousa Dembélé with 2.6 on average per game in the league, yet these come deep in midfield, as exemplified by the 0.9 key passes that follow as he leaves the creativity to those around him.
Who’s next on that list? A certain Lamela with 1.7 dribbles and 2 key passes in his nine appearances.
Mahrez, in what many consider a poor season, has 2.2 dribbles per game and 1.4 key passes, which is a stark decline to the 3.5 dribbles and 1.8 key passes he had during Leicester’s title winning season.
Bring that confident man back, something Pochettino’s style of football is likely to do, and you have someone that can help Spurs get the Premier League title they’ve come so close to two seasons in a row.
Now, whether Tottenham will be able to convince Leicester to let Mahrez go is a good question, especially with Craig Shakespeare unaware of a deal in place that would allow his star man to go in the summer, yet if the Algerian is going to get his big move, this summer seems like the ideal time.
Spurs are in the Champions League next season, the Foxes are not.
After finally getting a taste of what playing against European’s elite is like, you would expect him to want to play for a team in the competition next season.
As for how much he would cost, there’s no denying it, he would be very expensive, especially with three years left on his contract, but we are in an era where spending £35m+ on players is becoming a normality.
Tottenham’s record arrival is currently Moussa Sissoko at £29.75m, which many Spurs fans will groan about, but that hopefully won’t be the case come the end of the upcoming transfer window.
With everyone around him spending vast amounts of money, this summer should be the one Daniel Levy allows himself to live a little, open that chequebook and break the £30m barrier if he wants to bridge that gap.
And that money should be spent on Mahrez.