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From Algeria with art

Published : Feb 26, 2016, 10:40 pm IST
Updated : Feb 26, 2016, 10:40 pm IST

Jamie Vardy of Leicester City leads the English Premier League scoring charts with 19 goals. Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil is the leader in assists with 17.

Riyad Mahrez
 Riyad Mahrez

Jamie Vardy of Leicester City leads the English Premier League scoring charts with 19 goals. Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil is the leader in assists with 17. Neither of them, however, is the best in England this season. The honour should go to Vardy’s team-mate, Riyad Mahrez. The Algerian has 14 goals and 10 assists. There isn’t a better combination of Ozil and Vardy in the world’s oldest league than the 25-year-old winger from North Africa. Mahrez, blessed with a sensational left-foot, a velvet touch and an ever-ticking mind, is on course to being named the Professional Footballers’ Association player of the year. With only 12 matches left in the make-believe campaign, it’s difficult to foresee someone breasting the tape ahead of the Leicester hero.

In an interview to Match of The Day magazine recently, Mahrez spoke about how people tried to put him down early in his career. “They said I was too small, too skinny and too slow to make it as a footballer. Now the same people are saying I’m too good,” he said.

Who would have thought Mahrez would blossom into such a prized asset when he joined the Foxes from the French second division club, Le Havre, for half a million pounds in 2014 Watching the Algerian artist on the pitch this season has been a delight. Weighing at around 60 kgs, he is certainly a lightweight in a football world inhabited by giants. But Mahrez can be a monster with a ball at his feet. He can change directions at will and accelerate all of a sudden as if it’s a child’s play with the ball seemingly glued to his feet.

Players with his creative ability don’t normally shoot that well but Mahrez is deadly in front of goal as well. He is only five behind this season’s goal machine, Vardy. And, he has 10 more than Ozil, the only creative player who can measure up to the Leicester player in England these days. It’s difficult to say whether Vardy’s confidence has rubbed off on Mahrez or vice versa. The Algerian has the special ability to pack unimaginable power into his shots without any perceptible back lift inside the box. Watch the video of his massacre of Chelsea defender Cesar Azpilicueta before he drilled the ball home to get an idea of Mahrez’s class. He has the nose for goal that Ozil glaringly lacks.

Even though Mahrez has claimed in the same interview that his dream is to take on Barcelona at Camp Nou in the Champions League, it’s difficult to imagine the Algerian aesthete’s stay at King Power Stadium next season. Instead of playing against the Catalan club he could be playing for them. He certainly has the pedigree. It would be too early to call Mahrez the next Zidane but no player of Algerian extraction has excited the football world as much as the Leicester winger since the French World Cup winner.