Commentary

Leicester City and Mahrez are reluctant partners as last dance begins

How does a manager deal with a player whose expressed his intent to leave and most likely will fairly soon?

If you are Leicester City manager Craig Shakespeare, who guided the Foxes away from relegation last season after replacing Claudio Ranieri, you schedule heart-to-heart discussions with midfielder Riyad Mahrez to assess his state of mind. Mahrez released a statement at the end of May expressing his desire to depart; the list of suitors is expected to be long and large, though when players reported for preseason training on Friday Shakespeare insisted no bids for Mahrez have been received by the club. Shakespeare went so far as threaten to leave Mahrez out of the team if the player lags or shirks his duties when training sessions commence.

The 2016 Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the Year in 2016 publicly informed the world he was “fiercely ambitious” and had “informed the club that I feel now is the time to move on.” Mahrez, 26, also implied in the press release that he and club chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha had a gentleman’s agreement by which he would leave the club 12 months after its shocking Premier League championship campaign was concluded in May of last year. Mahrez scored 17 goals and logged 11 assists during the team's Cinderella season.

“It can be disappointing when players go public with it but I think you have to understand the modern game,” Shakespeare said. “Sometimes outside influences are secondary behind that and there can be reasons for that. Him coming out, we know where it stands, but ultimately he’s contracted to the football club.

“He has to be professional. We have to be professional with him. But more importantly he has to be committed and I think he has to show supporters, staff and players that. If he’s selected, he has to perform and, if he doesn’t show commitment, he won’t play. He’s got a contract with us, so he has to understand that.”

According to Shakespeare, Mahrez will travel with the team to Austria for a preseason camp and is to be included in the group that goes to Hong Kong later this month. for the Premier League Asia Trophy. Shakespeare said the private meeting(s) will help him assess the mindset and mood of the Algerian international who was a vital cog in the Foxes’ championship run and would command a large fee in the transfer market.

“Knowing him as I do, I think with Riyad he was just trying to be as honest as he can,” Shakespeare said. “Of course it can disappoint the fans but I need to really sit down with him one-to-one and see where he’s at in his head and how he feels. I’ve always had a decent relationship with him. But if players want to go, ultimately they have contracts and they have to honour them. If they want to go and we get a bid, we’ll reflect on it.”

Arsenal is among the clubs most interested in Mahrez but there are few signs a deal is imminent. The transfer window just opened and stays open until the end of August, and though Leicester City is prepared to lose him it intends to bargain tough, with a price of around 50 million pounds ($65 million) being bandied about in the realm of speculation.

“We haven’t had any bids and, if we don’t have one, we’ve got no decision to make,” Shakespeare said. He took over from Ranieri in February with Leicester City in 17th place, one slot above the relegation zone. The Foxes finished 12th in the Premier League and had reached the Champions League quarterfinals prior to Ranieri’s dismissal.

Leicester City is in discussions with Manchester City for striker Kelechi Iheanacho. His deal is expected to cost the Foxes about $32 million and should be completed in the next week or two. What the club will do to replace Mahrez if he leaves hasn’t been presented publicly.
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