With the merry go round between Arsenal, Chelsea and Borussia Dortmund providing no drama, it was Riyad Mahrez’s failed move to Manchester City that proved to be the major spectacle of the January transfer window. And still is: only yesterday Pep Guardiola responded to criticism from Claude Puel which said that the Foxes deserve more respect.
Leicester City were left upset with Manchester City, not only for making their bid so late in the day, but also for failing to raise it to a level they could deem acceptable. Manchester City were similarly wounded, viewing the Foxes’ refusal to accept what they deemed a fair bid for the Algerian as something of a slap in the face. Leicester’s fans, meanwhile, were left aiming their frustrations at Mahrez himself.
A Short-term fix
Amid the spectacle, it became hard for those on the outside to identify just who was the real villain of the piece. Manchester City are the most obvious candidate, chiefly because the move for Mahrez was a needless one from the beginning. Pep Guardiola was disappointed at losing Leroy Sane to injury and rather than dealing with it, sought to spend his way out of the issue instead. When the German returned, though, Mahrez would have been left on the scrapheap. He is not a better player than Sane, Raheem Sterling or Bernardo Silva, the latter of which must have also been scratching his head at the move.
Silva was the star of the show at Monaco last season and is comfortably good enough to replace Sane. The same can be said of the current crop of highly rated youngsters at the Etihad. The injury to Sane provided Guardiola with the perfect opportunity to give the likes of Brahim Diaz, Phil Foden or Oleksandr Zinchenko their real chance to shine and prove that it isn’t all about spending money these days. Instead he was willing to ignore them all and spend money on Mahrez in a needless transfer that in six months time would still make little sense, especially long-term.
Mahrez was denied his dream move
Not that all of the blame should rest on his and City’s shoulders, a portion belongs to Leicester City too. They were well within their rights to demand a big fee for Mahrez, especially after seeing Philippe Coutinho move to Barcelona for such an extravagant figure earlier in the window. Leicester would claim Mahrez’s stats compare to the Brazilian maestro, and he has a Premier League winners medal to his name to boot — so the £50 million price that City were reportedly offering was derisory.
On that standpoint, they cannot be criticised. Their treatment of the player, though, leaves much to be desired. The consensus appears to be that they had promised him a move last summer and indicated again that they would grant him one in January, should events transpire to bring one about. In both instances they have stood in his way, last month turning down a deal that Mahrez and his representatives would see as fair. That is a betrayal of the player, a man who has given his all throughout his time at the club and provided some of their best moments as a result. Stopping him from earning a dream move like this was akin to a knife in the back. Indeed, it is easy to see why Mahrez acted like he did. Being denied a dream job with dream wages is hard to take for anyone, never mind a footballer offered the chance to work under one of the world’s best managers at a club rapidly progressing to the top of the European pile.
Model-professional turned mercenary
Not that all of the Algerian’s actions were acceptable, however. For months Mahrez had been a player getting back to his best after failing to seal a move in the summer transfer window. Fans and pundits alike felt he had been the model professional, knuckling down, aiding the cause and not being a prima donna about the whole thing. It was the kind of professionalism that is seldom seen in the modern game and earned him many a plaudit. Then, in the blink of an eye Mahrez showed his bad side. A transfer request was submitted and the tools were downed in an attempt to force through a move.
Had Mahrez continued to play and perform, irrespective of his disappointment, his reputation would remain intact and few would be against him as they are now. Instead he is now seen as a mercenary by most, while his standing with the Leicester City faithful is at the kind of low that would have once seemed impossible.
Fortunately, his turnaround and clear the air talks with his fellow teammates may help go someway to rebuilding his reputation at the Kingpower Stadium in the coming months. Several stellar performances and fans will soon forget what occurred during the January transfer window, as is often the case in issues such as this. It’s easy to imagine he can produce again between now and the end of the season too. Afterall, he did it before January after being disappointed in the summer.
He will also know that now he has a tarnished reputation to improve with both Leicester’s fans and the wider footballing community. The best way to put a shine back on it will be shining on the pitch. If he does so, the move he has been craving this season could, potentially, be on offer again come the summer. Make no mistake, though, Riyad Mahrez was as much a villain in this tale as both Leicester City and Manchester City were. His actions were disappointing, Manchester City’s were needless, and Leicester City’s were, to put it mildly, treacherous. However, deciding who was fully to blame for what transpired is not so clear. This failed transfer tussle is a horror with bad guys around every corner; each playing their part in a tale that did not have a happy ending for any of the parties involved.