Are we seeing loyalty return to the world’s richest league after Leicester City’s most sought after player decides to stay?
Most recently compounded by defeat at Hull City, N’Golo Kante’s move to Chelsea appeared to signal the onset of events conspiring against a Leicester side whose core otherwise remains unchanged.
Insolent bookmakers were the quickest to dismiss a club not helped by the most challenging preseason roster of any Premier League side, and it could be argued that only Hull’s best impersonation of their Midlands counterparts saw them over the line last Saturday.
Meanwhile questioned at his decision to stay, Jamie Vardy’s vow of loyalty was soiled the moment news of an improved offer emerged, without incriminating the player on grounds of false commitment but rather serving to remind us of Leicester’s internal pulling power granted in early May across a lucrative coronation.
Hardly football’s most obvious forte, subscribing to one club over an extended period has become increasingly uncommon in the modern game, with long-serving pair Leon Osman and Tony Hibbert rare examples to the contrary after both surviving the Everton academy and departing the same club as middle aged men.
While current Premier League veterans John Terry, Wayne Rooney and even Jose Fonte exist as three further examples of one-club-manship, the trend is fading across the board to the point where Christian Benteke’s solitary season at Liverpool feels like a substantial enough spell for a modern day footballer.
Borrowing from aboard, Portugal’s unlikely Euro 2016 hero Ricardo Quaresma is a figurehead of the nomadic tradition at the same age as Cristiano Ronaldo, and therefore proof that a haphazard domestic career can still pay dividends, despite his being world’s apart from the former Manchester United star in footballing terms.
So the question arises – does a player benefit from remaining at a successful club or should he move on to one of even greater reputation?
Sure, this kind of dilemma comes about every transfer window – Steven Gerrard and Chelsea et al – yet drawing purposely on Ronaldo’s 2009 move should help us make sense of Riyad Mahrez’s 2016 u-turn – if it’s true the Algerian was close to joining Arsenal at one point.
Completing a move to Real Madrid seven years ago after making almost 200 appearances for The Red Devils, Ronaldo’s decision was met with Sir Alex Ferguson’s blessing, as the Scot proved remissive and accepting of the forward’s wish to move on.
But this was only after a protracted stint in Manchester where the young Portuguese inspired the club to Champions League glory across his penultimate season in red and bagged a string of domestic titles along the way.
Having secured the prize of all prizes within domestic football, Ronaldo might’ve departed there and then yet continued for another season in United’s cosmopolitan side – which included Leicester City men Danny Drinkwater, Danny Simpson and Matty James.
Referencing a handful of the Foxes’ current crop marks admittance into Mahrez’s transfer situation since we arrive a generation later to find a team whose backbone owes a nod to the United academy, to Robert Huth’s coming of age at Chelsea, to Wes Morgan’s physical maturing across a decade in the Championship, and even to Marc Albrighton’s formative years within the best Aston Villa side of the modern era.
So it’s not as if the group of players don’t have enough success-laden experience between them, no matter how young many of them would’ve been at the time.
In fact, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez are the two late bloomers of the squad, particularly in the former’s case at 29, while Mahrez was only discovered by accident after Leicester City scout Steve Walsh took in a Ligue 2 game involving Mahrez’s former club Le Havre with the intention of viewing a different player altogether.
Reverting back to Ronaldo’s final season in Manchester, circumstances around the former Ballon d’Or winner at the time were stifling – the interest from Real Madrid was persistent yet Manchester United succeeded in retaining their talisman’s services for another year, with Sir Alex accepting that Ronaldo always had a “hankering” to join Los Blancos.
Returning to the here and now of August 2016, Arsenal fans could do worse than look at the Ronaldo saga of eight years ago before matching it to the Riyad Mahrez situation – both similar as examples of loyalty where a move otherwise seemed a realistic possibility.
However, unlike Arsenal, Real Madrid did eventually get their man, but it’s now silly to think we’ll see Mahrez at Arsenal under Arsene Wenger, which to purists is a sad state of affairs in itself.
But chewing over such an idealistic perspective seems pointless when we consider how well both Leicester City and their star player have behaved across the whole debacle – from the moment club chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha posted a light-hearted plea to Mahrez on social media while stood next to him in a photo, right through to the forward’s serial presence across a tough pre-season roster.
So, like Ronaldo, we must commend Mahrez on his behaviour throughout, however coy and flirtatious he might’ve been at moments across the piece, not least when suggesting there’s “three clubs in this world (capable of making you think)” on the eve of consolidating his time in Leicester by adding to it.
In dilating Leicester City’s cult status beyond today, those brave enough to imagine the East Midlanders as a force 10 years from now and counting will see Riyad Mahrez’s decision to stay as real statement of intent, and one proud in contradicting today’s footballing pragmatism.
Now tied down to 2020, Mahrez’s new contract doesn’t completely rule out the possibility of being enticed elsewhere across the next four years, yet keeping the 25-year-old until he’s almost 30 means the Algerian will see out his prime at the King Power Stadium.
Even if the club doesn’t manage to retain the Premier League title this term, Leicester City’s chances will be greatly improved as a result of Mahrez’s decision to stay amidst renewed adversity against the side.
Motivated no doubt to do like Ronaldo and push on for Champions League glory, Mahrez will hope Leicester’s European litmus test proves fruitful, and you can count on a similar dynamic between the player and his boss Claudio Ranieri to that of Ronaldo and Sir Alex.
There’s much more to come from the Foxes.