Riyad Karim Mahrez, mental strength

A regular for Guardiola on his way to his third Premiership, the Algerian player has just turned 30 and is in spectacular form
 Riyad Mahrez, del Manchester City

REUTERS/MICHAEL REGAN  -   Riyad Mahrez, Manchester City

His team, Manchester City, is on a great winning streak that puts them at the top of the Premier League standings. In the Champions League they are playing Borussia Moenchengladbach for a place in the quarter-finals, after beating the German team in the first leg. They are clear favourites after their victory on German soil.  

The African player stands out in this perfect team, and in most of the matches he is an undisputed starter. In the Champions League group stage, in the only game in which City failed to win, against Porto, Mahrez did not play a single minute.  

Mahrez had a difficult time in the team as he was no longer a permanent fixture for the manager. There were even rumours of Mahrez leaving for Real Madrid or Paris Saint-Germain. But he worked and fought to improve and change Guardiola's mind. At Manchester City there is a large squad of top players and every game to get a place in the starting eleven is very difficult. They are the highest paid players and football manager in the world.  

El argelino Riyad Mahrez en acción con el senegalés Youssouf Sabaly, en el partido de final de la Copa de África 2019 entre las selecciones de Senegal y Argelia   PHOTO/REUTERS
PHOTO/REUTERS-Algeria's Riyad Mahrez in action with Senegal's Youssouf Sabaly in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations final match between Senegal and Algeria.

He is a weak-looking player. When he started in the French second division, some coaches described him as too skinny and too small.  

A player from the neighbourhood, he learned in the street, he grew up in Sarcelles, in a difficult environment, close to Paris. A neighbourhood of immigrants, mainly North Africans and sub-Saharan Africans.  

Today he is a strong, sinewy player, difficult to break down without fouling him. He has what most teams crave: he has the ability to run past his opponents.  

His father came to this neighbourhood from Beni Snous, an Algerian village in the Rifian area, near the border with Morocco and close to Melilla. His mother came from Morocco.   

El argelino Riyad Mahrez   PHOTO/OMAR ZOHEIRY

It was in this environment that Mahrez grew up, in a place with a high risk for absent-minded youngsters. He and his brother always preferred the path of sport, of football. When he was very young he lost his father and Riyad had promised him that he would become a footballer. All his efforts were focused on "becoming a footballer ". He succeeded largely thanks to his mental strength.  

This 2020-2021 season Riyad, at the age of 30, seems to have reached the peak of his career. In November, playing for Algeria against Zimbabwe, Mahrez scored one of the most spectacular goals of his career, back-heeling an aerial cross and twice breaking the opposition before firing past the keeper.  

He is the idol of the Algerian national team and, offensively, one of Europe's most exciting players. He has a masterful left foot, is a superb dribbler, almost infallible in one-on-one situations and has a great shot.  

City got it absolutely right when they signed him from Leicester, who became Premiership champions for the first time in their history, largely because of the Algerian star's contribution. Mahrez has always commented on his gratitude to Leicester for the opportunity he was given to be part of that team of friends that caused a sensation in England and across Europe.  

Riyad Mahrez del Manchester City    PHOTO/REUTERS
PHOTO/REUTERS-Riyad Mahrez, Manchester City  

He has won two Premierships (Leicester and Manchester City) and an African Cup. This year, barring a debacle, he will win a third Premiership and is one of the strong candidates to win the Champions League.  

He has a contract with City until June 2023, when he will be 32, but he is a player who stays fit and can be at full fitness until he is 35. We have the case of Modric, Ramos, Benzema at Real Madrid. Cristiano at Juventus, Lewandowski at Bayern, Messi and Piqué at Barça or Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Milan at 39.  

His mental strength, dedication and effort make him different from others who are in clear decline at his age.