February 13, 2018

FREE KICKS: How to solve a problem like Mahrez

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

It’s an age-old problem in European football: What do you do with wantaway stars?

They’re capable of derailing a team and can hold their club hostage. It’s something that we rarely see in North American sports because of the way that transfers and player power works in Europe.

There’s much more power on the players’ sides during negotiations with the club and long-term contracts aren’t always played out. In fact, unlike when a player is traded in North American leagues, the contract is renegotiated with the new club.

Just look at the current case of Riyad Mahrez and Leicester City. Mahrez, if you may remember, was one of the key players that helped the extraordinary happen when the Foxes won the Premier League title two years ago. He remains one of the team’s best players and is among the best in the league as well. His team, on the other hand, hasn’t been able to replicate the glory it achieved two seasons ago and now the Algerian international wants out.

If you follow soccer, this is nothing that hasn’t happened before.

With some interest piquing in the winter transfer window, Mahrez put in a transfer request and sat out in hope of a move, with Manchester City being his rumoured top destination.

But with a 50-million pound bid coming in very late – not giving the Foxes enough time to find a suitable replacement – it was rejected and Mahrez remains with the team.

He isn’t happy about this.

So now there’s this limbo the club and player sit in for the rest of the season until the window opens for business in the summer. So, what’s to be done?

There are several options, but most end up being losing scenarios.

You can sit the player, but this might actually be the worst idea, a lose-lose-lose, if you will. The club loses money having to pay a top player to sit at home, the player loses out on valuable playing time to keep sharp, and the club (again) loses because the player’s value drops with each week he sits.

A could transfer him immediately after the player turns in his request, but with potential buyers knowing that he wants out, his value dips and the club loses out on the fee.

Perhaps the most logical path – and the one that Leicester seems to be taking – is bring the player back into the side and then promise to sell him in the next window. Of course, there is some awkwardness between the player and his teammates, as well as the fans, but it might be the closest thing to a win for either side.

Of course, the club could always sweeten the pot by offering a new, bigger contract, but we’re not sure if this all that Mahrez is after, in this case.

So, how do you solve a problem like Mahrez? Apparently it is just by forgetting about what happened, for now.


We were set to split this award for the first time ever, but Sergio Aguero had to go and score his fourth goal of the game in 90th minute. Otherwise, Kun and Kevin De Bruyne, who had three assists against Leicester City on Saturday, would’ve been co-winners.

Instead, it’s Man City’s top scorer, who now has 21 goals this season – five short of his career high and we’re not even halfway through February. He’s also two goals back of Harry Kane for the league lead, making this year’s scoring race a pretty thrilling one, considering the Spurs striker won the Golden Boot with 29 last year, a mark that should be easily topped this campaign.

And, in case you were wondering, Aguero’s 13 goals in 2018 so far are more than Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku, Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford combined (12).


Pretty funny moment when De Bruyne stole Aguero’s game ball after the match. It’s nice to see guys have a laugh … Jamie Vardy became the first player ever to score against each of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man City, Man United and Spurs in the same season … In case you were wondering, City can win the league by beating United on April 7. Could you imagine the scenes if the Citizens clinch against their biggest rival? … Liverpool beats its farm team, Southampton, but the Reds didn’t really need any of its former Saints to do so. After Mohamed Salah set up Roberto Firmino for an early goal, the Brazilian returned the favour later on. That’s 22 goals for Salah this season, on track for one of the best seasons ever by a Liverpool player … Swansea’s amazing run under new manager Carlos Carvalhal continued with another win against a team well ahead of it in the table. The Swans haven’t lost a game since a 2-0 defeat against Spurs on Jan. 2. And that includes matchups with Liverpool, Arsenal and Leicester City … Swansea’s amazing form since Carlos Carvalhal took over: WLDDWWDWDW. That’s one loss since late December … Chris Smalling’s dive was the third time this season that a United player has been booked for simulation, tied for the league lead … How in the world was Antonio Valencia’s boot to the face of Newcastle’s Christian Atsu not a red card? There was no need to go in that high and it was incredibly dangerous … Jose Mourinho has never won at St. James Park. After the 1-0 loss, the Special One is 0-4-3 there … Rafa Benitez has his number, too. The win was Benitez’s sixth against Mourinho and only Pep Guardiola has more (nine) … Antonio Conte was spared the same fate as Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto Di Matteo before him. The previous Chelsea managers were both sacked after losses to West Brom, but the Italian avoided that with a 3-0 win over the Baggies … If Chelsea does want to sack Conte, it will be pricey. The reported cost to buy out the manager is a massive 26.7 million pounds. No wonder they’re in no rush to make a move.


Tell me if you’ve heard this one before, but Jose Mourinho is creating some drama.

This week, he again hauled off world-class midfielder Paul Pogba after a goal conceded and brought on Michael Carrick because Mourinho wanted someone “to do the simple things.”

Two games ago, Pogba was subbed off after an argument with Mourinho on the sideline and last weekend the Frenchman didn’t get the start, with Scott McTominay getting the nod.

When healthy, Pogba is one of the best all-round midfielders in the world, but Mourinho seems intent on antagonizing both him and the fans. Why in the world would you take off an incredibly gifted player like Pogba when you need a goal to salvage a point away?  And why Carrick, who we honestly thought had retired.

Usually when Mourinho creates controversy, it’s to take attention off his players and put it on himself. Providing a distraction while his charges work things out. This time, he risks alienating one of the best players in the world and could see his team start dropping in the table if he’s not careful.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

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