Riyad Mahrez? He’s an example!”
goes the mantra in Sarcelles, a north Parisian housing project where strings of high-rise blocks were built in the 1950s and 1960s primarily to accommodate French settlers from Algeria.
It was in this town 16km (10 miles) north of Paris that the Algerian international was born and raised, and the Premier League winner with Leicester who will be one of the stars of the upcoming African Cup of Nations continues to inspire. At AAS Sarcelles, Mahrez’s first club, the young wannabe footballers all seem to favour their left feet, like their idol, now 25.
On one of the football pitches belonging to the multi-faceted Sarcelles sports club, the regional under-16 team fight to talk about Mahrez, and the praise is, unsurprisingly, high.
Sekou and Yanis, naturally left-sided attacking midfielders, express their admiration for the path trodden by a player long ignored as a youth because of what was deemed a puny physique.
Mahrez stagnated in Sarcelles’ second or third teams, plying his trade in the wider Paris region until he was 18 before touching down in England five years later, after spells at Quimper and Le Havre.
Mohamed, yet another ‘leftie’, speaks of the ‘street’ style Mahrez has maintained despite going professional.
“When he’s in front of a player, you know he’s going to skin him,” he said.
“It’s his speciality and I love it! Imagine you’re facing a defender, you do a step-over, change direction and he falls: the crowd goes nuts! It’s too cool.”
Faysal Abdelwahbi, 23, a childhood friend of Mahrez’s, was adamant that “everything started here”.
“All the things he does to defenders in England, we were on the receiving end right back in the beginning.
“That step-over dribble against Manchester United, sending (Chelsea’sCesar) Azpilicueta the wrong way, or really taking (Martin) Demichelis to the cleaners…” he reminisced to general hilarity.