In the midst of this drama-filled World Cup, it’s easy to forget that in the background the wheels of the English Premier League continue to turn. But some EPL news broke today that is big enough to momentarily turn our attention away from the tournament in Russia: In a move that he has long pined for, Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez has been sold to Manchester City for the massive sum of £60M, a Man City club record.
You will recall that Mahrez gave Leicester a transfer request back in January. When the club effectively blocked that request by imposing an £80M transfer fee and then demanded that he finish out the season, he broke into a tantrum and boycotted the team. After about a week and half of headline-grabbing petulance, he sheepishly returned, hat in hand. After saying his sorries, he saw out the remainder of the campaign and even showed good form with touches of brilliance. However, despite his redemption, it was clear to everyone that he and the club should part ways over the summer, and now that penny has finally dropped.
This is an excellent bit of business for Leicester City. They turned a huge profit on a player they had plucked from the French second division in 2014, a player who subsequently led them to the League title in 2015-16 on his way to being named PFA Player of the Year.
Yes Mahrez was Leicester’s most talented player, but he was also 27 years old and wanting out. With Mahrez’s value still high despite the horizon coming into view on his best years, Leicester wisely traded away a player who no longer wanted to wear their shirt in exchange for a huge bag of cash. That’s a smart play.
On Manchester City’s end, the move seems to make only a little less sense. They spent a club-record fee to fill a position at which they are not thin or weak — David Silva, Bernardo Silva, Raheem Sterling, and Leroy Sane can all play on the right wing, which is Mahrez’s favorite spot. But then again, money is no object for Manchester City, and when you are rich, why not enjoy an embarrassment of riches? Especially when you will be competing for trophies (and wearing out players) on four fronts, and when you aspire to attain the size and clout of blockbuster European clubs like Barcelona or Real Madrid? Luxury spending is no sin when you have wealth on Manchester City’s scale, so who can blame them for buying things they don’t really need?
So a probable fat salary increase notwithstanding, it is the player who seems to have biggest potential downside on this deal. I am sure Mahrez feels like he has outgrown a club like Leicester, who admittedly are extremely unlikely to ever mount another title challenge — or ever again play in Europe — during his career. At 27, he realizes that the time is now for a move that will bring a chance for more silverware and to showcase his talents on a larger stage.
Manchester City will provide the opportunity for Mahrez to do both — the team we saw last year was perhaps the best team in the history of the EPL, and the glare of the spotlight will be much brighter there. But, barring a shocker sales deal (e.g. David Silva moving closer to the wife and baby who kept him out of action for so many weeks last season), the stage is currently crowded. Mahrez must find a way to fit into a squad that boasts not just the names already mentioned, but also stars such as Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus and Ilkay Gundogan.
Unarguably the best player at Leicester City, he will probably not even be the best midfielder at Manchester City. Once Leicester’s talisman and taker of set pieces and penalties, he may now find himself playing second-chair in the midfield section of City’s symphony orchestra of maestros.
What this means, of course, is that Mahrez (along with all of Man City’s midfielders except perhaps KDB) will be a no-go for fantasy purposes until we see how things play out. One of the EPL’s perennial fantasy darlings may not even be a regular starter next season.
Mahrez’s move to City will have knock-on effects elsewhere too: As if trying to divine Pep’s rotation plans wasn’t already difficult enough for fantasy managers, Mahrez’s addition to the mix will now add yet another element of uncertainty to City’s midfield lineups. Sane and Sterling would seem to be under the most direct threat from Mahrez, but 32 year-old David Silva may become increasingly vulnerable as well. Pep’s Wonderful Wheel of Rotation just gained another spoke. Yay.
Mahrez’s departure from Leicester City also completes the break-up of the key players from the club’s championship season, which began with N’golo Kante’s immediate exit for Chelsea. Jamie Vardy still remains, but with Mahrez goes Leicester’s primary source of creativity. Barring a replacement of similar class, Mahrez’s transfer will probably dent Jamie Vardy’s fantasy value just as much as it does Mahrez’s. Kasper Schmeichel’s fantasy value may decrease too. With fewer goals-for, he could see fewer win points and more loss deductions.
What do you make of this (club) record-setting transfer? Will you remain interested in Mahrez as a fantasy player, or does this kill his value for you? What about Vardy and Schmeichel? And what will this mean for City’s crowded midfield and Guardiola’s rotation philosophy?
Please tell us what you think in the comments below, and of course, stay with us when our World Cup coverage ends and Never Manage Alone shifts its focus to a new and exciting season of its bread and butter (and tea and jam): The English Premier League!