In January 2014, Leicester City spent just under £400,000 to sign Riyad Mahrez from French second division side Le Havre. Few would have predicted that he would now be amongst the favourites to win the Premier League PFA Player of the Year Award.
His rise from one of Europe’s smallest leagues shows that clubs don’t always need to spend massive fees on the bigger names, and that money might be better off spent on scouting for hidden talent.
In the summer, Chelsea spent £19 million on Pedro, Liverpool paid £32.5 million for the services of Christian Benteke, and Manchester United bought Memphis Depay for £28 million. None of these players have performed anywhere near the standards expected of them, and all of them have been totally outperformed by Mahrez.
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In the Premier League, the Algerian is the only man to have reached double figures in both assists and goals, having found the net 14 times, and set up his teammates on a further 10 occasions. Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne is the only other man in European to achieve this feat.
Mahrez’s talent was no more obvious than on Saturday, when his brilliant individual strike helped Leicester to a shock 3-1 win at Manchester City.
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He isn’t the only man Leicester have poached from lower league football and made into a proven Premier League player. Both N’Golo Kante and Wes Morgan have spent time in the lower leagues of France and England respectively, while Jamie Vardy’s journey from non-league football has been well documented in recent months.
He is not alone as a man who has come from the depths of English football though, with both West Ham’s Michail Antonio and Southampton’s Charlie Austin having spent time in the non-league game in the past ten years.
These players have proved that there is still room for the so-called lower league footballers to make their mark in Europe’s toughest league, even with the increased financial power of Premier League clubs.
Finds in non-league football such as Vardy are rare, but there are certainly many players in the lower leagues who are capable of emulating the success that the likes of Mahrez have had in English football.