It is early days in the 2019/20 English Premier League season but already the league table is starting to take a familiar shape.
Leicester’s implausible surge to the top of the Premier League has been the sporting story of the year.
The team has been feted for their discipline, passion and ruthlessness. Their remarkable achievement has put their club and their city on the world stage.
Thoughts now turn to next season, and how the Premier League champions will retain the services their stars, including creative mastermind, Riyad Mahrez.
Mahrez has been critical to Leicester’s success. He’s scored 17 goals and provided 11 assists, but his contribution is more than just numbers. His guile gives Leicester confidence they can break down even the most packed defensive formation.
Mahrez’s superb footwork draws defenders to him, and that gives more time and space to his teammates. He has peerless judgement; his goal against Swansea where he took a moment to control the ball, analyse where to shoot and then calmly slot it past the goalkeeper demonstrates this is a player with the ability to excel at the highest level.
His rare talent means he’s hot property right now. There’s talk global behemoth Barcelona are willing to pay around $40 million for the star. Other Premier League clubs are also interested in the Algerian.
Mahrez’s manager, Kamel Bengougam, said his client may look to capitalise on his global stardom.
“At his age, if the opportunity comes to play for a big team then we would have to think about it,” Bengougam said.
“I’d say it’s 50-50 at the moment whether he stays or goes.”
It would be tempting to go chase glory and riches at other clubs, but the best way for Mahrez to prove this season isn’t an aberration is to stay with Leicester.
Other Premier League teams can’t offer Mahrez the opportunities Leicester can. He will be able to test his abilities against Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Celtic during the 2016 International Champions Cup. At worst, Leicester will get a somewhat favourable draw in the group stages of the Champions League. They will play in front of a packed crowd at Wembley during next season’s Community Shield.
Mahrez will have the opportunity to excel at the highest level, while playing for a team whose structure suits his style of play.
It’s a win-win.
As far as money goes, Mahrez still has three years left on his current deal and only makes £35,000 per week (AUD $68,000), which is a relative pittance.
Leicester City know they have a rare diamond. He will be offered significantly more money over the summer as the champions know keeping the squad together will be critical as they look to establish themselves as a Premier League force.
With the largesse coming from the Premier League’s television rights deal, Leicester will have the money to ward off even the most ardent suitor.
The final reason Mahrez should stay is the rare camaraderie that exists within the team. Leicester are a tight knit group of players who work for each other. This is exemplified by the way they defend. Mahrez is a star but he’s expected to get stuck in and close down his opponents.
Leicester players also revel in each other’s success. This was shown when they all mobbed Andy King after he scored against Everton. King has played a supporting role this season, but his mates appreciate that the midfielder has been with the club since it was languishing in League One. They’re overjoyed a stalwart like King is now reaping success with the club.
This is a united, happy team, as left-back Christian Fuchs said in the immediate aftermath of winning the title.
“Leicester City is playing Champions League football. Isn’t that a good enough reason to stay at this club?
“I think all the lads know what this team is all about. So why not stay? I believe that.”
Mazhrez has a rare opportunity. If he stays at Leicester next season he will play European football. He is guaranteed to face off against Lionel Messi and co during a glamorous pre-season competition.
The 25-year-old will get to do this while playing in a harmonious team. It’s the perfect opportunity to prove he isn’t a one-season wonder. If he can replicate this form next year the big clubs will come knocking again. Only this time his stocks would have risen even further.