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Was keeping hold of Mahrez a victory for Leicester?

With plentiful restless oligarch and sheikh owners more than willing to invest their surplus millions into football clubs around the world, huge player transfers have become common place.

Clubs with a valuable asset are therefore in a powerful position. The demand is there for these players, with so many mega-rich clubs willing to splash the cash to garner success.

Football is big business, and as with any enterprise, the more money you have, the more you want, and greed takes over. It is human nature.

Leicester assumed the position of power in the Riyad Mahrez saga. They had an asset another club wanted, but didn’t need to sell. They demanded an exorbitant amount, and if those demands weren’t met, tough. They wouldn’t be bullied by Manchester City and their colossal warchest.

But have Leicester really benefitted from turning down a reasonable offer for a player who was so desperate to leave? What will happen now? Will all be forgotten and Mahrez go on to a long, glittering career in the East Midlands? From their lofty viewpoint atop their patch of higher ground, the Leicester hierarchy may soon realise that keeping a player against his will for another six months, before selling for a likely lower fee isn’t the best practice at all.

Mahrez had outgrown Leicester two seasons ago

Players who take the stance that Mahrez has since his Deadline Day move to City didn’t materialise are treated with the utmost contempt. How dare an overpaid footballer demand he leaves to go to a bigger club, where is his respect?

Yet, with Mahrez, his desperation is somewhat warranted. The Algeria international is into his fifth season at the King Power, and, in truth, he was too good for the Foxes two seasons ago.

Mahrez released a statement in the summer expressing his desire to leave, as he felt the time was right – with Roma the likely destination. The Champions League was once again in the offing.

“We wanted a left-footed winger to replace Mohamed Salah and put it all on Mahrez,” Roma Sporting Director Monchi said in the summer. “But the only reason he didn’t come was because the club wouldn’t sell. It’s not an excuse, they said no to Barcelona too.”

Leicester were turning down huge bids from Barcelona – they felt invincible.

City offer should have tempted Leicester

Credit to Mahrez, he put his personal desire to leave to the back of his mind to produce some of the best football of his career this term. His imperious form towards the end of 2017 was no coincidence, though – the transfer window was about to open.

Yet, Leicester’s valuation of their star man seemed to deter suitors, until City came in last minute with a surprise bid. A transfer request was handed in – Mahrez just had to get out of there.

Several more offers were turned down by Leicester, as they reportedly wanted £95m – what would be a record Premier League buy. City’s final offer of a deal worth £65m, which included a player, reported to be the talented Patrick Roberts, currently on loan at Celtic, and £20m more cash than Roma were offering in the summer, was again turned down, and the league leaders’ withdrew their interest

Leicester had won, they could stick their chest out, with pride still firmly in tact. But, in practical terms, they weren’t quite as successful.

How useful is an unhappy player?

Mahrez is now suffering from depression, and is on strike. Should he return, he is so unhappy he is very, very unlikely to rediscover anything like his December form, which will be detrimental to the team.

Mahrez’s team-mates are reportedly unhappy with the 26-year-old’s shunning of the club, so to welcome him back into the dressing room could certainly create a toxic atmosphere, at least initially.

Then there is the issue of a fee when he does leave in the summer. An out-of-form forward, not taking part in the World Cup could well find himself struggling for interested clubs. He will still want to go, and accepting £30m or so may well be Leicester’s only option.

Coutinho and Van Dijk transfers were different

Yes, there’s the debate that if Virgil van Dijk is worth £75m then Mahrez is worth more, but that comparison loses credence when you consider just how desperate Liverpool were to bring in the defender. The same can be said for Philippe Coutinho’s switch to Barcelona. City weren’t desperate, not in the slightest.

Leicester didn’t even seem willing to negotiate. Had they told City they wanted £70m they may well have received such an amount. The timing didn’t help, as there wasn’t much time to get in a replacement, but Roberts would do a job for six months, and do they not have a list of potential Mahrez replacements still hanging around from the summer?

In this situation nobody wins, in reality. Mahrez will be already yearning for the season to end, and soon enough, everyone at Leicester, from Claude Puel to the owners, may do the same.

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