sport news Leicester star Riyad Mahrez reveals grand title ambitions

Riyad Mahrez stands before a vast image of Muhammad Ali, enthusing about him and another of his idols, Roger Federer — the sole reason he was determined to make it to Wimbledon this summer.

Yet it is in the story of how he wound up at St Mirren nine years ago, in the depths of a bitter Scottish winter, that something significant emerges about the player with title aspirations of his own.

'I didn't want to go,' says the French-born Algerian with a grin in an hour's conversation about his struggles, triumphs, philosophies and ambitions — less than 24 hours after scoring the goal that helped Leicester City beat Tottenham. 

Riyad Mahrez has grand ambitions to reach the very top of the game and win multiple medals

Riyad Mahrez has grand ambitions to reach the very top of the game and win multiple medals

'Right from the start, I didn't want to go but someone I knew — more a friend than an agent — told me there was a trial in Scotland. He said, "Come on, let's try it", so I said OK.'

What happened next is something Mahrez can laugh about now. His arrival at Glasgow Airport, six weeks living in a small hotel on a minimal income, scoring goals freely for St Mirren's Under 21s and a local football agent becoming very interested in him in a way that first-team manager Gus MacPherson was not.

'I had four games. I scored seven goals. Every game I was scoring,' he says. 'They tried to keep me but I never got near the first team. And then my friend in France called me and said the Scottish agent wanted to cut him out, sign me up and become my agent instead. My friend said, "Come back home. I'll get you a ticket".'

So the player who within nine years would become a Ballon d'Or nominee — and take seventh place in that vote — found himself hatching a plan to retrieve his boots before doing a moonlight flit from Scotland.

Like his idol Muhammad Ali, and Roger Federer also, Mahrez has grand aspirations of success

Like his idol Muhammad Ali, and Roger Federer also, Mahrez has grand aspirations of success

I scored seven in four at St Mirren but never got near the first team

'I'd left my boots at the training ground, so I took a bike from the hotel to get them,' he relates. 'Then I took the bus from the hotel, then the train, arrived at the airport and took the first plane back.'

What strikes you, as 26-year-old Mahrez relates this tale, is his how persuadable he was. This slight individual has such burning belief in his own ability that during lunch breaks at his school in Sarcelles, a Parisian banlieue, he would tell dining-room assistants that he would play in the 2014 World Cup one day (which he did, for Algeria, by virtue of his late father Ahmed).

Yet an ability to take control of his own destiny has come less easily. When others have said 'go' over the years, Mahrez has generally gone. And when others have said 'stay', he has tended to fall in line.

Now, there seems to be a greater resolve to shape events, rather than allow them to shape him; to follow his own path rather than wait for one to materialise.

He has a new agent — recently joining the Sports Invest stable that includes Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho, Chelsea's David Luiz and Willian, and the exciting Watford winger Richarlison.

Scoring against Spurs as he did on Tuesday — shaping inside Jan Vertonghen to arc a left-footed shot from the edge of the area around Hugo Lloris — rekindled memories of being the centre of the national football conversation 18 months ago. He doesn't mind saying he misses all that.

Mahrez began his professional career at Le Havre though was frequently told he was too slight

Mahrez began his professional career at Le Havre though was frequently told he was too slight

'The win reminded me of when we were champions,' he says, 'and yes, of course I want to win more trophies. I've always had the ambition to win a lot of trophies. It's what we are playing for. At the end of your career, what you will keep in your head is the memory of winning trophies — Premier League, Champions League. Those are the only things you remember.'

He says he was '50-50' about leaving in the summer of 2016, once Leicester's title was won. He spoke to Arsenal's chief transfer negotiator, Dick Law, at that time. His representatives were in touch with Arsene Wenger. He feels that was the closest he has come to leaving and that Arsenal were the best fit for his skills.

And what became of that chance? 'I don't know what happened,' he shrugs. 'It's football. You never know what will happen.' Luis Suarez was not nearly so philosophical when Arsenal's approach for him came to nothing three summers earlier.

Mahrez's reticence about discussing this stems from the self-effacing nature he shares with friend, former team-mate and occasional tennis partner N'Golo Kante.

But Kante left Leicester for Chelsea and a second successive title, while Mahrez stayed and signed a £100,000-a-week deal. There was no buy-out clause, which has given Leicester a strong hand.

At school he told dining-room assistants he would play in the 2014 World Cup... which he did

At school he told dining-room assistants he would play in the 2014 World Cup... which he did

'N'Golo had a clause and when he left they stopped those clauses,' Mahrez says. 'They said they would never give one to anyone after that.' And though he speaks of Leicester with affection, Mahrez clearly feels he does not know all that there is to know about which clubs have been interested in him in the past 18 months.

'They

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