Something unprecedented and unimaginable was about to be relished by millions of football fanatics watching the top tier of English football. The world stood shocked with eyes wide open. The scenes they were relishing hadn't happened in the recent past. They were about to embrace one of the greatest sporting achievements of all time. They were about to see a historic side outside of the traditional 'top six' to dethrone Chelsea for the shiny Premier League silver and become the Premier League Champions for 2015-16. Relentless by every means, resilient from matchday 1 to matchday 38; that extra-ordinarly football teams was was deserved headline-maker without a shadow of a doubt. A year after narrowly avoiding relegation threat, the big underdogs Leicester City, in an astonishing fashion, beat 5000 to 1 odds and cruised towards a blistering, astonishing title triumph.
Claudio Ranieri's men would go down as the historical side to clinch the title and their names would continue to be cherished. There was an unquestionable blend and rhythm inside the dressing room and the roaring twelfth man became their strength as the season went ahead. There was a gem of a player in that squad, a remarkable attack-minded midfield maestro who was a real driving force behind Leicester's title dream as hailed by plaudits. And that very player was none other than PFA player of the year 2015-16, Riyad Mahrez. The Algeria international Riyad Karim Mahrez is seemingly one of the most lucrative, decorated and majestic players ever to put on a Leicester blue.
When Riyad Mahrez was plying his trade for French football club Le Havre, he caught the eye of Leicester's scout Steve Walsh. The scout seemed impressed with that young lad, and Leicester's swoop for him looked imminent. Riyad Mahrez had agreed to step up. The Algerian braced for a gigantic move in his footballing career. He penned a Leicester contract and entered the lucrative world of English football filled with uncertainty and jeopardy. On 11 January 2014, the East Midlands outfit handed the promising midfielder a three and half year contract.
The first season at the helm of the King Power stadium was a quite good stint for Riyad Mahrez, although not an iconic one. Mahrez made his debut on 25 January 2014, coming on in the 79th minute as a substitute replacing fellow winger Lloyd Dyer, in the 2–0 win against Middlesbrough. After making four substitute appearances for Leicester, including scoring his first goal for the club, an 82nd-minute equalizer against local rivals Nottingham Forest, Leicester ended the season as winners of the Championship, returning to the Premier League for the first time in ten years. He raised his game in the subsequent season as he scored four goals and recorded three assists, and Leicester stayed in the Premier League. But the best was yet to come from Leicester City and Riyad Mahrez.
Riyad Mahrez and the Leicester Miracle
The 2015-16 season of the top-flight English football began for Foxes in the fashion they had hoped for. Ranieri's men ran riot against Sunderland as Riyad Mahrez came on top, scoring two of Leicester's four goals. It was the first sight of an attacking duo of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, who later took Premier League by a storm. Leicester's season was off to a flying start.
Riyad Mahrez and Leicester City were cruising after that opening fixture as they lost just one out of the first 9 fixtures. Later, it was Tottenham who stood in way of Leicester and scored at the death in the match and tie seemed over until Riyad Mahrez scoring a minute later to earn a huge point.
Premier League has always been a stage where any of the team could turn the tide in its favor at any moment. It's the league where a scene changes in a flash. The foxes too became a victim of this, but they were slowly getting acquainted with this all and had started to find their rhythm. Their no.26 was pulling the strings for the Foxes along with his teammates such as Jamie Vardy, Ngolo Kante, Schmeichel, Morgan, and all other Leicester players. Leicester was yet again put in the wrong territory by Aston Villa who was leading the foxes by 2-0 at their backyard. Mahrez sent two key assists to bring his side right back in the game and to win by 3-2. The Algerian had continued to raise his game and soon became one of the hottest players in the division. The time had come for Mahrez and Leicester.
On 5 December, he recorded his first Premier League hat-trick for Leicester against after humiliating Swansea by 4-0. It was a statement win by Leicester and a shout out to all Premier League outfits that Leicester is here for something big. Later in the League, they went on to a register a historic 2-1 win over Chelsea where it was Mahrez yet again who scored and assisted for his side.
Riyad Mahrez's mesmerizing night vs Manchester City and setting sights for PFA Player of the year
Several sets of Leicester fans shouted '' We are going to win the League!'' after relishing quite a stellar performance from Riyad Mahrez and Leicester against Manchester City at their own backyard. The visitors ran rampant against the hosts and their dominance was pretty much tangible. Mahrez sent a sharp delivery to Robert Huth, who converted it into a Leicester goal and foxes were leading on the 3rd-minute mark and never looked back. But still, something better, something more was about to come from Mahrez.
N'golo Kante had won the ball from the Manchester side in his own half and rolled it to Mahrez on the left flank, who threw Otamedni out of his way with one brilliant-cut and went on to score a beautiful goal. Etihad went silent. Mahrez had been devastating for Manchester City goalkeeper Hart and their rearguard. The Algerian was the best player on the pitch by far.
A memorable victory at the Etihad Stadium, put Leicester 5 points clear at the top. It was a night where they displayed their title credentials. 'Why shouldn't they be Champions?'' said Peter Drury, a mainstream football commentator after the cessation of 90 minutes in the Blue Half of Manchester.
Riyad Mahrez was involved in more Premier League goals than any other player with 28 in 33 appearances. He scored 17 and made 11. It was a stellar individual season from him and this season made Leicester fans give him a legendry status and he was touted to be crowned as PFA Player of the year.
On 24 April 2016, Riyad Mahrez defeated his team-mates Jamie Vardy and N'Golo Kante, Tottenham's Harry Kane, West Ham's Dimitri Payet and Arsenal's Mesut Ozil for the PFA Player of the Year honor.
Leicester City grabbed the Premier League title on 2 May as Chelsea drew with Spurs and the Foxes went 7 points clear of the North London side. It was a tale of its kind and Riyad Mahrez was the spotlight of this story. He was on it right from the beginning of the competition.
From time to time in his magnificent 15-16 season, Algerian professional footballer proved that he belonged to the biggest stage in club football. Later in 2017, he left Leicester City for Manchester City to start a new chapter of his football career. Mahrez has been sensational for Leicester and the stands of King Power Stadium can never forget the amazing football spectacle produced by their former no.26. Four years on from that unbelievable season, he stil remains one of the best players in Europe and his 2015-16 stint would continue to be cherished by football fraternity for years to come.Published 25 Mar 2020, 09:55 IST