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Saturday, January 28, 2023

From an orphan to Africa’s best footballer : How 2016 smiled on Riyad Mahrez

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2016 did not only smile on Real Madrid and Portugal star attraction Cristiano Ronaldo or swimmer Michael Phelps or Formula One driver Nico Rosberg or tennis player Andy Murray but the year was also immensely favorable to Leicester City and Algeria attacker Riyad Mahrez the best African footballer by popular acclamation in 2016, an orphan that grew up to shake up things in the English Premier League. 

There is no better African player I could center my first feature article of the new year on than this romantic winger. He scores goals at ease and dribble like nobody’s business and even as Leicester City may be chasing shadows this season in the Premier League, Mahrez has lifted them in the Champions league with his 4 goals and 2 assists as Claudio Ranieri’s side topped their group to reach the knockout round of the competition and the fact that Leicester City won a group that contained Porto (2 Champions league won in 1987 and 2004) and Club Brugge (Champions league finalists in 1978 ) means they could do well against Sevilla – second in their group.

Mahrez helped Leicester City win the 2015/16 Premier League in a remarkable title triumph with the Algerian scoring 17 goals and laying on 11 more for his teammates and he was voted by his colleagues as the PFA Players’ Player of the year becoming the first African player to pick the award – and the legendary Didier Drogba even , figuratively, doffed his hat to Monsieur Mahrez.

In 2006 when Mahrez -aged 15 – lost his father Ahmed who died of a heart attack,  little did his people know that he will one day grow up to earn this stunning recognition some ten years following the demise of his father. From an orphan to Africa’s best footballer. This is the story of Riyad Mahrez.

The story of Riyad Mahrez is a story that provides moral motivation to all orphans from around the world that there is light at the end of the tunnel if they believe.

“My dad was always behind me, he wanted me to be a footballer,” says Mahrez in careful English. “He was always with me. He came to every game with me to give me help. He played before for small teams in Algeria and France so he knew what he was saying, so I listened to him. [His death] maybe was the kickstart. I don’t know if I started to be more serious but after the death of my dad things started to go for me. Maybe in my head I wanted it more.” Riyad Mahrez told The Guardian in September 2015.

“We were definitely not rich, but we were not poor,” says Mahrez. “My mum always came home from work and did everything so that we ate well” Mahrez added.

Interestingly, the Leicester City scout Steve Walsh who recommended for Mahrez to be brought to the King Power stadium had rather went to France to monitor a teammate of Mahrez called Ryan Mendes but Walsh ended up impressed by the Algerian Mahrez.

The former Le Havre player was rewarded again as he was named the 2016 BBC African footballer of the year – an award voted by football fans from across the world – beating off competition from Pierre -Emerick Aubameyang of Gabon and Senegalese Sadio Mane becoming the only Algerian to win the accolade after Yacine Brahimi who won it two years ago.

In the whole world, for the 2016 France Football Ballon d’or, 25-year old Mahrez and Aubameyang were the only African players that received nominations in the 30-man list done by France Football and it was Mahrez that finished 7th ahead of Aubameyang (11th) after 173 journalists voted. Only Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, Luis Suarez, Neymar and Gareth Bale finished ahead of the Leicester City lethal weapon.

Again when FIFA drew up 23 candidates to contest for the 2016 FIFA Player of the year, the only African player that entered the tight list was Mahrez. Another feat, another reason why he was the best African man in 2016 to have kicked the round ball on a football pitch.

The highlight of the annus mirabilis for Mahrez was when he added another individual honor on Thursday as he was voted African footballer of the year by CAF and again he beat the same duo of Auabameyang and Mane to the biggest individual prize in African football.

Meanwhile Mahrez is expected to make this recognition count for the Greens of Algeria in this year’s Africa Cup of Nations which kicks-off on the 14th January Algeria know that there would be stronger competition from countries like Ghana, Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire but if Mahrez can propel star-studded Algeria to yet another silverware in Gabon, it would even make his story more phenomenal.

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