It’s hard not to love Riyad Mahrez, isn’t it?
He came from absolutely nowhere, helped keep Leicester in the top-flight and dragged the Foxes to an unbelievable title victory. Now, he’s rocking it up at Manchester City and best thing of all, he’s done it all with a smile on his face.
The Algerian may not be the star name in a City side packed full of mouthwatering talent, but he’s undoubtedly one of the most dangerous components of a team that’s been a rampant attacking force over the last few seasons.
On the right side of a front line alongside Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero, Mahrez has emerged as arguably the most consistent and most impressive performer of the three this season.
It’s been a season where City have not have been at their best, but Mahrez has been the creative shining light on the right flank – chipping in with eight assists to add to his nine Premier League goals.
That may seem underwhelming for a player lining up in such an attack minded side, but it is his all round game that has become much more enhanced since his arrival at the Etihad.
At his former club, Mahrez was the star man and the creative genius to match the prolific Jamie Vardy in attack, yet perhaps could have cut somewhat of a lazy figure at times. The notion of tracking back and defending seemed somewhat alien to the mercurial talent, despite the impressive performances he had put in in the final third.
However, after something of a bedding in period under Pep Guardiola, Mahrez is now just as impressive in his ball recovery skills as he is in delivering that killer pass.
That is a hallmark of any Guardiola side, with players needing to be able to combine both attacking flair with the drive to win the ball back as quickly as possible.
For the 29-year-old to adapt so quickly to such a demanding manager and system is telling of his mental fortitude and ambition, a factor which was integral to his desire to make the move away from King Power Stadium.
Let’s not forget, however, that it was with the Foxes that both pundits and fans alike fell in love with this footballing magician.
While the Algerian was instrumental in Leicester’s dramatic survival in his first season in the Premier League back in 2014/15, it was his displays the following season that truly outlined his staggering ability.
Here was a man plucked from the second tier of French football with Le Havre in 2014 to become the PFA Player’s Player of the Year just two and a half years later.
In that remarkable 2015/16 season, Mahrez was a menace for any Premier League full-back, with his unpredictable and somewhat unknown talent the catalyst for his side’s 5000/1 Premier League triumph.
Vardy may have scored the goals – and N’Golo Kanté may have been the powerhouse in midfield – but anyone who watched that Leicester side could see the real superstar in the making – Mahrez.
As Leicester surged towards their unlikely title, their was one game in particular where the Algerian truly showcased his talents and caught the attention of his future employers. The soon-to-be champions rocked up at the Etihad knowing a win over Manuel Pellegrini’s City side would take them even closer to that coveted title – and Mahrez duly delivered.
While Robert Huth scored an unlikely brace, it was Mahrez who stole the show, weaving his way past the City defence before rifling his shot into the roof of the net. Likewise, against Chelsea that same season, the France-born magician was equally as destructive, curling an effort into the far corner after toying with a helpless Cesar Azpilicueta.
In truth, that season should have been his last in Leicestershire – with the following year marred by transfer requests, rumours and failed moves – but no one can blame Leicester’s board for wanting to hold on to their prize asset.
Fast forward four years and Mahrez has another Premier League trophy under his belt and will be vital as the Cityzens try and wrestle their title back from Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool next season.
With Leroy Sané out the door and perhaps limited funds available to replace him, the onus will once again be on both Sterling and Mahrez to provide the attacking menace from wide positions.
He may be the most versatile of players, but he’s undoubtedly one of the best right wingers in world football.