The 'Afcon Rise of' Series is a collaborative initiative between Goal and 3 Kilo featuring up-and-coming writers. 3 Kilo is a development agency that creates opportunities and skills development projects for the youth of South Africa.
Riyad Mahrez will be looking to turn Algeria’s fortunes around and bring the prestigious African Cup of Nations title home for his nation.
Despite a rich footballing history, Algeria have failed to win the African title for the past 29 years, and off the back of an impressive domestic treble-winning season with Manchester City, Mahrez will hope to bring his winning touch with him to Egypt this year.
Riyad Mahrez 's early life
Mahrez was born of an Algerian father and a Moroccan mother in the French town of Sarcelles, known for its high density of North African migrants. It was while playing in the streets with his friends and the support from his father that sparked his love for football. The 28-year-old said his early memories of his father taking him to play are some of the most favourite times he can recall.
Mahrez started his youth career at AAS Sarcelles, where he was constantly overlooked because of his small frame. He spent six years at Sarcelles learning how to avoid contact and beat players with the flair he learnt from playing in the streets of Paris. Tragically his father passed away when he was just 15 years old and that was the turning point in his football career.
“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,” Mahrez told The Guardian.
Riyad Mahrez's club career
In 2009, his professional career started when he joined the Quimper Kerfeunteun Football Club, where he made 27 appearances. After a season, he joined Le Havre, rejecting offers from Paris Saint-Germain and Olympique Marseille because he was impressed with the youth set-up at Stade Océane, which produced the likes of Ben Mendy, Dimitri Payet and Paul Pogba. Moving through the ranks at Le Havre, Mahrez managed to play 60 matches for the first team and netted six times for the Ligue 2 French side.
It did not take long for Mahrez’s hard work and dedication to start bearing fruit. Even though he was judged and overlooked by teams because of his slender build, it did not stop Steve Walsh, who was sent on a mission to scout fellow Le Havre teammate, Ryan Mendes, to fall head over hills for the Algerian winger. Needless to say, Leicester City and Mahrez put pen to paper and that was only the beginning for him in England.
On 11 January 2014, he made his debut for Leicester City and became part of the side which won the 2013/2014 championship title and promotion to the Premier League.
The 2015/2016 season was where Mahrez and his Leicester teammates stunned the world.
In their first season in the Premier League, Leicester struggled at the start of the campaign but then miraculously escaped relegation after winning seven out of their final nine games. Their survival from relegation began the start of their 2015/16 fairy tale. Under the new management of Claudio Ranieri, Leicester started the season with a 5000 to 1 betting odds of winning the title. In good company with players like N'golo Kante and Jamie Vardy, Mahrez and others, the Foxes dazzled the world, winning the unlikeliest of Premier League titles. Mahrez contributed 17 goals and 11 assists.
Mahrez became one of Europe’s standout players for his performances for Leicester, earning individual awards for his outstanding performances. Some of the awards he collected were the PFA Players’ Player of the Year, the PFA Fans’ Player of the Year, the Caf African Footballer of the Year, BBC African Footballer of the Year, Leicester City Player of the Year, Facebook FA Premier League Player of the Year, Algerian Player of the Year and the Lion d’Or Footballer of the Year.
Riyad Mahrez's international career
Even though he was born in France, Mahrez always had a desire to play for Algeria. He was selected in the Algerian squad for the 2014 Fifa World Cup and in May 2014, he made his international debut in a pre-World Cup friendly game against Armenia. Since his international debut, he has earned 43 caps and scored 10 goals so far.
Mahrez will play an integral part in the Desert Foxes' quest for continental glory and Mahrez will undoubtedly play a key role for the 1990 African champions. Algeria coach Djamel Belmadi, who also once wore the sky blue colours of Manchester City, knows the value of the winger in his squad.
"I do not build my team around a player, but Riyad is very important, almost indispensable," Belmadi said.