Sunday 22 September 2019

Mahrez: I was never AWOL - the club knew where I was

Leicester City's Riyad Mahrez. Photo: PA
Leicester City's Riyad Mahrez. Photo: PA

James Ducker

Riyad Mahrez has denied going AWOL and insisted Leicester City were kept fully aware of his whereabouts during his absence after he finally returned to training with the club yesterday.

In an ironic twist, Mahrez could yet be included in the match-day squad to face Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium this evening, the club to which he had tried to force a move on deadline day last month after submitting a transfer request.

Leicester were thought to have fined Mahrez two weeks' wages of about £240,000 after he disappeared in the wake of his failed move to Manchester City, whose manager, Pep Guardiola, expressed hope the forward would play while refusing to accept any responsibility for the subsequent fallout.

But in a statement released yesterday afternoon, Mahrez was adamant that Leicester had been kept fully informed of his situation, both in terms of his location and his reasons for not turning up for training.

The Algerian playmaker also claimed many presumptions had been made that were "totally without foundation" and insisted he would continue to give the team his total commitment.

"Over the past 10 days many people claiming to be my friend have spoken about me of things they know nothing about," Mahrez said. "I would like to clarify that all those so-called assumptions of why I was absent are completely untrue.

"Leicester City were always aware of my whereabouts and had knowledge of my thinking, either directly or via my advisers.

"I have been a part of the Leicester City team that has achieved much success, including promotion to the Premier League and being champions of the league. My goals have always been the same and I have always given my full 100 per cent when I play for the club, the fans and my team-mates. Those goals remain the same today and in the future, and when I am asked to be a part of the Leicester team, rest assured I will continue to give my all."

Leicester had earlier issued a statement on their website confirming Mahrez had returned to training and adding that he "remains a greatly valued member of Claude Puel's squad and is focused, together with his team-mates, on achieving further success with Leicester City".

Mahrez submitted a written transfer request on Tuesday last week in an effort to force a move to Manchester City, who were reluctant to offer more than £60 million for the player. Leicester had proposed a package worth up to £95 million, which included forward Patrick Roberts, who is currently on loan at Celtic, but negotiations collapsed. Guardiola said he hoped Mahrez - whom he could try to sign again in the summer - would line up against his side at the Etihad but said Manchester City could not be blamed for what developed.

"I don't think so," Guardiola said when asked if City should shoulder any blame. "Leicester came to pick up Kelechi [Iheanacho, who joined Leicester last summer], we did it. In all transfers, the clubs call the clubs, it's simple like that. After that we are not involved in absolutely anything.

"It's a decision for the player and the club, not Manchester City. Hopefully he will play. I love to play with the best sides and the best players.

"That's why I wish he can come back as soon as possible and play. He's an extraordinary player and, of course, I and everyone enjoy watching the better players."

Asked if he had been disappointed by Mahrez's behaviour, Guardiola said: "I'm not there. Sometimes if that happens with one player I will speak with him but I'm not there. I don't want to make one comment because I don't know the reality for the player or the club."

Guardiola will be without the injured Leroy Sane, David Silva, Gabriel Jesus, Fabian Delph and Benjamin Mendy against Leicester but John Stones is available again after illness along with Phil Foden, who has been out with ankle ligament damage.

Jesus is due back within the next fortnight from a knee injury and Guardiola also revealed that Sane was running again, raising the prospect of the Germany winger returning from an ankle injury this month despite initial fears he could be out until late March.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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