Continuing our very popular series on African soccer stars playing in Europe's top leagues, we focus on Manchester City's Riyad Mahrez and Chelsea's N'Golo Kante. Both moved to their current clubs from Leicester City FC, which pulled off a fairy-tale English Premier League championship. Michael Renouf looks at the making of two of the EPL's most gifted players.
Only a handful of players have won the English Premier League (EPL) with more than one club; Algerian Riyad Mahrez is one of them.
Riyad was born on 21 February 1991 in Sarcelles, France, to an Algerian lather and mixed Algerian and Moroccan-descent mother. It was a middle-class family. His father Ahmed, who was from Beni Snous in the Tlemcen Province near the Algerian border, played for small clubs himself in Algeria and France and always encouraged his son to play football. But he sadly passed away at the all too young age of 54 when Riyad was only 15, and was deprived of the opportunity of watching his son turn into a world-class forward.
Mahrez's first senior club was the little-known French lower league team, Quimper. During this one season in Brittany he played with Mathias Pogba, older brother of Paul. After rejecting advances from both PSG and Marseille, he moved to Le Havre, where the skinny lad could develop without being in the glare of the media spotlight.
After three successful years in the reserve team, Le Havre II, he transitioned into a first-team player for Le Havre in the second tier of French football.
He would later criticise the league for what he saw as the over-defensiveness of the teams in this division, so it was no surprise when he moved on, although many thought he would be more suited to the more technical La Liga in Spain rather than the physicality of the English game.
Nevertheless, he moved to league championship team Leicester City part-way into the 2013/14 season. (The Championship should not be confused with the EPL--it is the second-highest league overall in the English football league system after the Premier League.)
That season he played 19 games in the league, netting three times--his first goal in English football coming on 19 February when appearing as a substitute against local rivals Nottingham Forest in a 2-2 draw. Mahrez helped his club win the Football League Championship with an impressive 102 points and thus gain promotion to the EPL the following season.
So onwards and upwards to the Premier League. His first goal in the top flight of...