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How Riyad Mahrez wrote his name in African football folklore

Friday 6th January 2017
Riyad Mahrez is having one of those years many footballers would have fantasised about or craved for. The 25-year-old capped an improbable calendar year by clinching the 2016 African Player of the Year award on Thursday - the highest individual accolade for any footballer from the continent. 
The Leicester City playmaker grabbed 361 of the total votes cast to defeat 2015 winner and Borussia Dortmund star, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who had 48 less, while Liverpool's Sadio Mané, with 186, finished in a distant third.

"It's a huge honour for me to receive this award. I am happy and pleased," an elated Mahrez said at the event held in Nigeria. "I wanna thank all my team-mates both at Leicester City and Algeria. Am dedicating this award to my family. It's never easy to win a big award like that.  I'm very happy to win because obviously, it was against two big players. What happened last season was amazing, we knew it wasn't going to happen again - and it won't happen again I think, for a small team like Leicester."

Mahrez thus joins an elite group of African greats to have won the coveted accolade while playing in the Premier League. They include the likes of Nwankwo Kanu, Didier Drogba, Emmanuel Adebayor and most recently Yaya Toure. The 25-year-old hence becomes the first Algerian and the maiden North African to clinch the prestigious individual honour since its inception by the Confederation Africaine de Football (CAF) in 1992.

However, this isn't the only time the former Le Havre man has become his country's first. By clinching the 2015/16 Premier League title with Leicester, the talismanic attacker also became the first Algerian to win the prestigious trophy. The 25-year-old was pivotal in that Foxes' fairytale run which culminated in the title - scoring 17 goals and assisting 11 others in 37 games.

Mahrez then went on to achieve another milestone by becoming the only African to be awarded the PFA Player of the Year award for the league's most outstanding player. He also clinched the PFA Fans' Player of the Year award and was named to the league's Team of the Year. This was aside other numerous recognition including the BBC African Footballer and Algerian Footballer of the Year awards. In fact, the 25-year-old is the only player ever to hold both CAF and BBC top awards simultaneously.
But none could compare to being named among the 10 best footballers on the universe according to France Football magazine, organisers of the annual Ballon d'Or award. Expectedly, Cristiano Ronaldo picked his fourth title with Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann coming second and third respectively, while Mahrez remarkably finished seventh in the final standings.

The only missing piece of silverware for the forward however is the Africa Cup of Nations title which his nation last won 27 years ago - two years before he was even born. But Mahrez reckons that will be his priority as the 31st edition of the biennial tourney edges closer.

“The next thing after this award is the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations. My team will try to do good things there," the Algerian confessed. “It is not going to be easy in Africa but it will be good maybe to win the title.”

Irrespective of whether Algeria clinches the title or not, it is still safe to say Mahrez has done enough to be considered one of Africa's greatest players ever. 
Toby Prince

If the sport has 11-men on each side, a ball and lasts for 90 minutes then I'll write about it. Simply put, I'm an unrepentant soccer freak that other freaks will, however, call a geek. I do find time for music when not watching the beautiful game, though and have been known to produce the odd track. 


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