Swiftly after Leicester City had finished 12th last season, the Foxes were rocked by the news that their star player Riyad Mahrez wished to leave the club.
Back in May, Mahrez publicly announced his intention to leave, saying: “I am fiercely ambitious and feel now is the time to move on to a new experience.”
Since that announcement, Mahrez has been linked with a host of top clubs across Europe but as the summer transfer deadline nears a conclusion, the 26-year-old is still contracted to the Foxes.
A deadline day switch could be in the offing, though, as the Algerian FA released a statement this morning saying that Mahrez had been given permission to leave their training camp to negotiate a move elsewhere.
The statement from the Algerian FA said that Mahrez “was authorised by the national coach Lucas Alcaraz and the Algerian Football Federation to make an express trip to Europe to formalise on Thursday his transfer to his new club. The national team will fly without him on Thursday morning to Lusaka to face Zambia on Saturday.”
Usually, once such a situation has arisen, it is fairly clear where the player in question could move to, but in the case of Mahrez, it still remains something of a mystery. As is customary on deadline day, rumours are swirling across social media as to the winger’s whereabouts, with some people suggesting that he is in London and others claiming he has taken a flight to Paris.
So where could Mahrez end up? Here are potential destinations for Leicester’s No.26.
When Mahrez announced his intention to leave Leicester he would have set his sights on securing a move to one of the world’s biggest clubs.
Barcelona might not be in their best moment at present, yet the allure of playing in the famous red and blue stripes, alongside Lionel Messi, in the Camp Nou would prove difficult for any player in the world to turn down.
Quite where Mahrez would fit in at Barcelona will be an interesting dilemma for Ernesto Valverde to solve, after all, he has just completed the club-record signing of Ousmane Dembele.
But the addition of Mahrez would be a boost to Barcelona as they look to enhance their attacking options in the post-Neymar era.
An attacking quartet of Dembele, Mahrez, Messi and Suarez would be virtually impossible for any team to stop.
If various reports are to believed and Mahrez really is in London to seal a transfer, the three obvious destinations for him would be Chelsea, Arsenal or Tottenham. Of that trio, it is probably the Blues who are in the driving seat to sign him, as they can offer him Champions League football (which Arsenal cannot) and a big wage increase (which Spurs cannot).
Antonio Conte has endured a frustrating summer with the club missing out on their top target Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United as well as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to Liverpool and amid rumours that the Italian’s relationship with the board has become strained, they would surely look to appease him with a statement signing such as Mahrez.
Chelsea arguably have more pressing needs in their squad with a central midfielder and a wing-back or two probably higher on Conte’s list of priorities but they could do with a winger as well. Eden Hazard might take a while to get back up to speed following his ankle injury while Willian and Pedro are the only other senior wide players in the Blues squad.
Moving to Stamford Bridge would give Mahrez the opportunity to link up again with N’Golo Kante (and potentially Danny Drinkwater) and give him the opportunity to play Champions League football once again. Furthermore, the bookies seem to think it is his most likely destination.
Wildcard: Man Utd
Given how they have started the season – three wins from three, ten goals scored, no goals conceded – every player would be interested in a move to Manchester United right now. It is early days, of course, but Jose Mourinho’s side looks pretty formidable thus far, adding a clinical edge to their play that was sorely lacking last season.
Mourinho already has an embarrassment of riches to call upon in attacking midfield with Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Juan Mata and Henrikh Mkhitaryan all capable of lining up on either flank, but there could be space for one more game-changer in United’s squad. The club’s lengthy pursuit of Ivan Perisic demonstrated that Mourinho was keen to bring in another out-and-out winger.
While United have plenty of options, they don’t really possess a dribbling demon like Mahrez. Martial and Rashford are rapid across the ground and extremely direct but are strikers playing out wide, while Mkhitaryan and Mata are creators and natural No.10s who have been re-deployed out wide. Mahrez would, therefore, give United a proper winger and we all know how much wide players are revered at Old Trafford.
Leicester’s title win in 2016 was Mahrez’s first major honour and their miraculous run to the last eight of the Champions League whetted his appetite to play in Europe’s best competition, year in and year out. United are on the up and following two minor trophy wins last season, Mourinho has set his sights on winning major competitions from this season forward.
It is an exciting project that Mahrez would surely jump at the chance to join.
Squawka suggests: Monaco
If Mahrez is to leave England for France where he initially made his name with Le Havre, you would think that it would be Monaco, rather than PSG, where he’d end up as they have plenty of money to spend following some notable sales this summer. PSG’s world-record move for Neymar has meant that they are unable to make any more big purchases this summer which is why Kylian Mbappe is set to join on loan with an obligation to buy.
Monaco might have lost the likes of Bernardo Silva, Benjamin Mendy and Tiemoue Bakayoko, but they have re-invested in their squad brilliantly, signing highly-coveted players such as Youri Tielemans, Stevan Jovetic and most recently, Keita Balde from Lazio.
While many of their signings have replaced outgoing stars, though, they could do with landing a Silva replacement, even if Rony Lopes has looked promising in their opening matches. Mahrez would provide a similar option to Silva, offering guile and craft as an inside forward on the right flank and he would be an excellent like-for-like replacement.
There were legitimate concerns that Monaco’s startling progress under Leonardo Jardim would stall following this summer’s sales but on the contrary, they have made a blistering start to the season too, winning their opening four Ligue 1 matches including 4-1 against Marseille last time out. As a result, they remain an attractive proposition for any potential signings.