Riyad Mahrez has stunned Leicester with another transfer request after emerging as a late target for Manchester City, but it could require a British record to sign the winger.
Mahrez is pushing for a move to the runaway Premier League leaders on deadline day with Pep Guardiola prepared to pay up to £60million for the former PFA Player of the Year.
City have moved for Mahrez after Leroy Sane was ruled out until at least late March with ankle ligament damage and were in talks with Leicester for much of Tuesday attempting to advance the deal.
But Leicester’s Thai owners, the Srivaddhanaprabha family, are maintaining a hardline stance on Mahrez and insist he is not for sale, especially at such a late stage in the transfer window.
And while Leicester have no plans to sell the Algeria international it is understood that it would require a fee of around £90million to even raise the prospect of a deal being done. The current British transfer record is the £89m Manchester United paid Juventus for Paul Pogba in August 2016.
Mahrez is alleged to have failed to turn up for training on Tuesday, ahead of their game at Everton, and later that day handed in his second formal transfer request in under 12 months.
It is thought highly unlikely that he will be involved at Goodison Park on Wednesday night.
Guardiola has already smashed Manchester City’s transfer record with the £57.1m capture of Aymeric Laporte from Athletic Bilbaoand twice evaded direct questions about Mahrez on Tuesday.
When asked if signing the 26-year-old was a possibility, he replied: "Right now, it's the same as [Alexis] Sanchez, Laporte, it's not the place to talk about it. It's so difficult.
“It happened with Laporte because it's a buy-out clause, when you have to negotiate it's always so complicated.
"I have interest in a lot of players, good players, there are many, the window is open until the 31st. We spoke many times with the club to see what is the best with the players we have.
“Right now we have just three strikers with Raheem [Sterling], for the next month or month and a half. Gabriel [Jesus] is coming maybe in the next two to three weeks, we don't have too much and we play every three days. We have to find solutions.” Jesus is facing a race to be fit for the League Cup final on 25 Feb.
Mahrez’s head has been turned by Guardiola’s interest and he has admitted previously that he is a huge fan of the Spaniard and his former club, Barcelona. Despite Leicester’s determination to keep him, it is shaping up to be the nightmare scenario they were desperate to avoid.
Mahrez first informed the former Premier League title winners of his desire to leave in May last year, amid interest in Roma, while he spent the last transfer deadline day at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport waiting for a move which never materialised.
Leicester sources claimed on Tuesday night that the club is yet to receive a formal bid for Mahrez, with negotiations more focused on the price Manchester City are happy to pay. But more talks are expected on Wednesday, with Leicester’s stance likely to be hardened by Mahrez’s latest transfer request. He has two-and-a-half years left on his £100,000 a week contract.
Guardiola has moved for Mahrez after Sane was initially ruled out for up to seven weeks - though that could turn out to be longer - with an ankle injury, sustained in the FA Cup win at Cardiff on Sunday.
The Germany international is expected to miss the EFL Cup Final against Arsenal and both legs of the Champions League tie with Basel.
Guardiola, meanwhile, has defended his huge spending since taking charge at the Etihad Stadium, with the signing of Laporte taking his outlay in 19 months at City to £448 million, more than half of which has been spent on defenders.
Laporte has signed a 5½ year contract that ties him to City until June 2023 and the 23-year-old expressed hope that his move to the Etihad Stadium will boost his chances of forcing his way into France’s squad for the World Cup finals in Russia this summer.
“I hope so,” Laporte said. “I’m coming to a big club to achieve great things and obviously, the World Cup is a big thing. We need to work hard until the end of the season, I need to put in great performances, keep growing and try to be able to be called up for Russia.”
Laporte has been registered in time to be included in the squad to face West Brom on Wednesday, though it is not yet clear whether he will be involved.