As bargains go, few can beat Leicester City’s capture of Riyad Mahrez.
Signed from French outfit Le Havre for the nominal fee of £320,000 in January 2014, the Algerian has exceeded all expectations to become one of the world’s best footballers.
Mahrez played a starring role in arguably the biggest shock in British sporting history, as the Foxes defied odds of 5,000-1 to lift the Premier League trophy in 2016.
The 26-year-old dazzled spectators with his mazy runs and goals, scoring 17 times in total.
Cutting in from the right wing and curling the ball past the goalkeeper’s outstretched right glove was his trademark.
The nucleus of that title-winning side has since disbanded, with Danny Drinkwater and N’Golo Kante having both swapped the King Power Stadium for Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge.
Mahrez had pledged his future to the Foxes in the months following their sensational triumph, putting pen-to-paper on a bumper four-year-contract.
However, speculation linking the 2016 PFA Player of the Year with a transfer grew and after a disappointing campaign both personally and collectively, he announced his wish to leave the Midlands outfit, saying he felt it was the time to ‘move on.‘
A number of clubs were linked with him, but a move failed to materialise.
After initially being omitted from the starting line-up in the early stages of this season, the appointment of Claude Puel revitalised Mahrez, who reminded everyone why he had been so highly coveted.
Since then, his relationship with Leicester has turned sour.
Sanctioning his departure on deadline day would have given Leicester very little time to sign a replacement.
Moreover, any potential deal would have been greatly inflated, with clubs wise to Leicester’s sudden windfall. Mahrez though, has effectively gone on strike.
He has not appeared at training this week and skipped the club’s past two fixtures.
Mahrez believes he has been denied his dream move.
He has given the club another 18 months of his career after they won the Premier League and in that time has seen the club sell the likes of Drinkwater and Kante.
Now, he feels the club should repay his loyalty. Instead, he feels betrayed.
It leaves Leicester in a predicament.
Even if Mahrez reported for training, it is likely he would incur a heavy fine and/or suspension.
It is hard to believe his team-mates feel anything other than let down by their star player.
By refusing to work at the club that pays his handsome wages, he is also damaging his reputation among the fans, who worshipped him as a hero.
One course of action for Leicester is to banish Mahrez to the reserves, much like Southampton did with Virgil van Dijk.
In reality, the hierarchy will understand it makes no sense in the long-term.
Selling their prized asset for an amount that meets their valuation, at a time that enables them to identify a replacement, would be best for both parties.
On top of the financial aspect is the effect this saga is having on the squad.
In an environment as highly charged as the Premier League, unwanted distractions can have major impacts.
Ultimately, there are rules that must be obeyed and respected.
No player can be allowed to breach his contract and go AWOL just because he doesn’t get what he wants.
Mahrez is tied to Leicester until 2020, a contract he was more than happy to sign.
He is in a privileged position and his childish behaviour only enhances the disconnect between footballers and the man on the street.
Reopening dialogue with the club and apologising for his actions would be a first step towards reconciliation.
Mahrez’s future may lie away from the King Power Stadium, but there are ways and means of going about it. Remaining professional is top of the list.
The supporters deserve better from a man who achieved more than he could possibly have dreamt of at Leicester City.