The race to see if someone can pull Riyad Mahrez out of the hands of Claudia Ranieri is set to hot up with Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea chasing all chasing the winger.
These teams going head to head for a player would, under normal circumstances, suggest that he’s going to end up at one or the other, but clubs outside England are sniffing around too, and what’s more is that Leicester are in absolutely no mood to sell. They have the guarantee of Champions League football to come. They have the prize pot for winning the title. They have a pot of gold from their success last season, and the TV money for the coming campaign.
In short, if Leicester don’t want to sell they don’t need to.
Premiership football has changed because of the television contracts. Clubs are suddenly enriched who never were before, and the idea that the so-called bigger teams – and remember, it’s Leicester who are champions at the moment, which should make you redefine what “bigger teams” actually means – can swoop in and sign anyone they like … well that no longer applies. Clubs have the money to resist now. Leicester are determined to.
Mahrez is happy there. Why shouldn’t he be? He has a winner medal and has been part of the fairy-tale. He’s got a chance to go one step further and take on the European big guns with the club. Every player wants that stage; he doesn’t have to leave Leicester to have it.
Nevertheless, this is Manchester City. This is Arsenal. This is Chelsea.
Realistically speaking, they’re always going to be massive clubs, bigger than Leicester unless they can parlay last year’s success into the kind of infrastructure changes that can turn them into a giant in their own right. Don’t rule that out; this is a club run by smart people with good ideas.
But for a player who’s just starting to learn how good he can be, the lure of London or Manchester must be hard to resist.
Chelsea have already signed two fantastic players in this window; Michy Batshuayi, from Marseille, and N’Golo Kante from Leicester themselves.
Arsenal have purchased Granit Xhaka from Borussia Monchengladbach.
City has had an oddly quiet window; they’ve brought in four players but spent little money. IIkay Gundogan, Aaron Mooy, Nolito and Alexander Zinchenko have all arrived, and whilst Gundogan and Nolito were big signings they’ve yet to secure a truly box-office deal yet.
Mahrez could be just the player to fit that bill.
All three sides definitely want Mahrez.
Leicester have slapped a big price tag on his head though, more than either club has paid for a player in this close-season so far, a white knuckle £45 million.
Do the London clubs think he’s worth it?
And if they do, who who would he opt to sign for?
The next week might tell the tale.