How ironic if the man who denies Riyad Mahrez his dream move to an elite club was not an executive or club owner, but the player himself.
The word from Manchester is that Pep Guardiola is going cold on Mahrez having witnessed how he has reacted to not getting his way on transfer deadline day.
Mahrez has not played for Leicester since, missing two games and soon a third, against Manchester City.
Pep Guardiola (left) is thought to have gone cold on Riyad Mahrez due to the star’s behaviour
Mahrez has refused to play for Leicester and desperately wanted to move to Manchester City
Playing would perhaps have afforded Mahrez the opportunity to cement a move in the summer, when there will be considerably more options on the market for Guardiola.
A game like he had last year when he helped inspire a 4-2 Leicester victory, or the year before when he scored one and made another at the Etihad as Leicester won 3-1, might have convinced Guardiola that he need look no further — or to come closer to Leicester’s exorbitant valuation.
Instead, Mahrez’s absence from the team sheet will leave another impression: that of a high maintenance, selfish individual who signed a contract, wants to end that contract prematurely and, finding he cannot, abandons his club and his team-mates.
Unsurprisingly, Guardiola is wondering whether such a character is worth the hassle, or upwards of £60million.
And his instincts would be right: he’s not. On his day, Mahrez is one of the finest players in the Premier League, but those days do not come around as often as they should.
He was outstanding for Leicester at Chelsea last month, but some weeks, some months, some years almost, can go missing. Mahrez was brilliant the season Leicester won the title in 2015-16, then disappeared for much of the next campaign as Claudio Ranieri was sacked. Since, he has been inconsistent at best.
He scored a single goal between March 18 and October 16 last year and his present exile, and very public agitations to leave, will do little to endear him to potential suitors.
Elite players face challenges and disappointments, too, and it is to be hoped handle them without withdrawing from professional life.
The Algerian could ironically have become the one responsible for ruining his dream move
Mahrez, it is claimed, is depressed at remaining a Leicester player. Depression is a real and serious condition and if Mahrez is suffering mental issues, he deserves sympathy and support.
Cynics, however, are understandably suspicious. The Professional Footballers’ Association have offered to mediate, but why a person suffering mental illness would require the assistance of a union not a therapist is a mystery.
Transfer windows have a tendency to leave a residue of depressed footballers, unable to play for their clubs. Happily, a cure has been found: just give them exactly what they want and they cheer up.
Yet, even if Mahrez’s mood is taken at face value, it can hardly be dismissed as irrelevant by Guardiola.
Life isn’t perfect for players, even at Manchester City. There can be injury, failure, loss of form and, certainly at a club with City’s squad depth, a place in the first-team cannot be guaranteed.
Guardiola needs players who can ride that, who can stay strong and surmount obstacles without requiring indulgence. Does Mahrez look like that sort now? If he is mentally fragile then, for all his talent, £60m would be a gamble.
Guardiola might have been more impressed if Mahrez was playing against City this weekend
But Mahrez has missed multiple training sessions, claiming he is not in the right frame of mind
With every day he stays away from Leicester, Mahrez appears less and less like an elite player and more like one who has found his level. He is worth the trouble at Leicester because they could not find an equivalent talent for the money — but City?
In the summer, there will be plenty of good players available for Mahrez’s price, players that possess great talent, players that have remained consistent, that have never walked out on their club or team-mates, players that bring little but harmony to the dressing room.
Who is the prima donna in the current Manchester City side? There isn’t one. That reveals the type Guardiola prefers; the type all managers like, really.
By turning his back on Leicester, Mahrez may find there isn’t only one door closed on his return.
Winter medals are easy pickings
Great Britain are sending their biggest ever Winter Olympics team to PyeongChang. That can mean only one thing. Low-hanging fruit has been identified and in the coming weeks will be duly plucked. It’s perfect for us. Half the planet isn’t there, mainly the black half, meaning it is pretty much a European event.
There have been 151 different countries awarded medals at the Summer Olympics, compared to 45 in the Winter Games — four of which are Germany (East, West, United Team of Germany and Germany) and three from Czechoslovakia (Slovakia, Czechoslovakia and Czech Republic).
Central America, South America and Africa have never won a medal at a Winter Olympics — indeed just 10 non-European nations have (United States, Canada, South Korea, Japan, China, North Korea, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, New Zealand and Australia).
In a country obsessed with elite medals above grass roots, this is our Games.
That is why we’re throwing money at skeleton and you can’t get a basketball court built.
Great Britain views the Winter Olympics as low-hanging fruit with medals to be won
Look at the players, not Conte
If Tottenham take a point from the north London derby on Saturday, Chelsea will be out of the Champions League places by the time they face West Brom.
Even if it does not happen this weekend, without swift improvement, it is simply a matter of time. This happened to Chelsea after their previous title-winning season, 2014-15, too. It would be a bad habit to get into.
The disappointing follow-up season does not now seem such an exceptional event, as it has happened three times recently.
Manchester United failed to make the Champions League the year after winning the title in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season; Leicester did, too. Yet, for both of those clubs there were exceptional circumstances.
Antonio Conte is right to question where the personalities are in his dressing room
Ferguson’s departure took a bigger toll than could have been imagined; Leicester sold a key player in N’Golo Kante and found it impossible to maintain the momentum of a truly unique campaign.
Yet what was Chelsea’s excuse under Jose Mourinho? No change of manager, no change of personnel. And making the Champions League only requires a top-four finish. It wasn’t as if they had to climb Everest. Between Blackburn Rovers in 1995-96 and Manchester United in 2013-14, no English title winners failed to qualify for the Champions League the following season.
It never happened to Ferguson or Arsene Wenger, to Chelsea in the early Roman Abramovich years or Manchester City. Yet, if they do not buck up, this group of Chelsea players will do it twice: and that begs explanation.
Antonio Conte dropped a heavy hint after Monday’s capitulation at Watford. ‘To play at a great club you must have personality, because it is simple to play when there is confidence,’ he said. Spot on. Conte is not the first Chelsea manager to look around the dressing room and wonder what happened to his team of winners.
Thibaut Courtois didn’t bring up his desire to leave when things were going well
On a roll, Chelsea are unstoppable, but the game against Watford looked remarkably similar to some of those abject performances in Mourinho’s last season. Good players who suddenly lacked the attitude, the appetite for the fight, who made casual errors, who did not work anywhere near the necessary level.
The next day, Thibaut Courtois, the goalkeeper, was talking of his heart being in Madrid, where his family live. Understandable for a father. Yet he never seemed to mention it when Chelsea were on top.
Once again, in adversity, Chelsea have a lot of players who look like they would rather be anywhere else. And how can that change when it is always the manager who carries the can at Stamford Bridge?
Benitez blew chance to sprinkle stardust
When next season begins, Newcastle will enter their 50th campaign without a trophy.
The Fairs Cup victory over Ujpesti Dozsa of Hungary was their last achievement of note, on June 11, 1969. It became impossible for Newcastle to win anything this season when they lost 3-0 to Chelsea in the FA Cup.
Yet noting Chelsea’s form of late, was that not another missed opportunity? Since sweeping aside an unambitious Newcastle, Chelsea have conceded seven goals to Bournemouth and Watford.
Rafa Benitez might look back at the FA Cup game with Chelsea as a missed opportunity
Would it have been so wrong to have a go on the day? Newcastle played conservatively at Manchester City a week earlier, understandably.
Rafa Benitez said that a cavalier approach with inferior players could end in embarrassment.
And goal difference is important in the league, we get that. Yet the Cup? What is the point of playing negatively in the Cup? It’s a free hit. What’s the worst that can happen? You lose. Big deal. Newcastle lost anyway.
Yet had Benitez taken the game to a floundering Chelsea, as West Brom did to Liverpool, who knows? It is a long trudge to May for the relegation-threatened clubs. A cup run is a little sprinkle of stardust — certainly at a club where stardust has been in short supply of late.
Team Lingard going through a dodgy spell
Jesse Lingard’s mighty faux-pas in appearing to tweet during the Munich memorial ceremony has inadvertently exposed the emptiness at the heart of many celebrity social media accounts. It isn’t really them.
Lingard received a tweet from an independent promotional group called I Love Manchester. Looking at their timeline, they post about every five minutes, publicising some element of Manchester life. New restaurants, new jobs, positive stories, positive observations. It’s a bombardment. This one asked when Lingard and Marcus Rashford were coming into their office for a few games of FIFA.
Three minutes after the minute’s silence had ended, Lingard replied: ‘Your not ready for me.’ The condemnation was pretty immediate.
Lingard was at Old Trafford, attending a solemn occasion, perhaps with the letter Sir Bobby Charlton had sent to each player still tucked in his pocket.
Jesse Lingard’s faux pas showed the empty heart behind celebrity social media accounts
He needed, in modern media parlance, to shut this down. So the following message was hastily composed and sent: ‘A member of my media team inadvertently replied to a tweet this afternoon on my Twitter profile during the Munich memorial service at Old Trafford. I was unaware as I was attending the service at the time, and don’t condone the post or the timing in anyway.’
So there you have it. Lingard’s social media profile, his banter, his personality, is quite often the work of a faceless media professional acting on instinct.
Worse, this person is either semi-literate or thinks Lingard is, so drops in deliberately bad English to make the tweets more convincing.
Either way, it’s worrying. You really shouldn’t be able to get a job in media without knowing the difference between ‘your’ and ‘you’re’ or ‘any way’ and ‘anyway’; and if you do know the difference, it’s best not to make it obvious that you think your boss is a bit thick by factoring in poor spelling when imitating him.
These are modern problems, obviously, but it is safe to say the question of authenticity was not one the Busby Babes would ever have to answer.
England may not play like the 1966 team in Russia this summer, but at least they will look like them. It’s not much, but it’s a start. White, blue, white. Red, white, red. That’s England.
Dele more deadly when he’s upright
Football, according to Mauricio Pochettino, is about trying to trick your opponent. Except it’s not. Beating your opponent, that’s the aim.
Beat him with skill, beat him with strength and athleticism, beat him with intelligence, beat him by being tactically superior.
There are many ways to win a football match, and Tottenham’s ways are some of the best. But trick him? That is a leap of logic that few coaches will countenance.
Manchester City haven’t tricked their way to the top of the table, and West Brom are not bottom because they need to be trickier. City are the best, West Brom must get better.
At football. Tricks do not enter into it. Pochettino was making the language turn somersaults in defence of his player Dele Alli, who is very gifted but fast establishing a reputation as the biggest cheat in the Premier League.
Football is not about turning tricks and Dele Alli needs to be staying on his feet
David Pleat, another Tottenham man, also spoke in his defence on these pages on Thursday saying Alli must keep driving into the box. Nobody is arguing that he shouldn’t.
What is being said is that he should stop throwing himself to the ground when he gets there. Pleat cited Frank Lampard and John Wark as players with similar attacking attributes — but neither of them had reputations for diving. They wanted to stay upright, they wanted to score.
Lampard’s game was about goals, not tricks, and Alli’s should be, too. He averaged a goal every 2.05 games in the Premier League last season — when he did not receive a booking for diving — and one in five this, when he has been cautioned twice.
Instead of indulging his chicanery maybe these facts should be pointed out. Alli is better on his feet than turning tricks.
Leeds planning is a comedy of errors
Some wonderfully joined-up thinking at Leeds where the failing Thomas Christiansen has been replaced as manager by Paul Heckingbottom, late of Barnsley.
Christiansen was a Dane who played in La Liga for nearly 10 years, represented Spain, and whose coaching career spanned jobs in the United Arab Emirates and Cyprus.
He had no experience of English football and his entire backroom staff were Spanish.
So, naturally, after a run of seven games without a win, he has been replaced by a manager whose playing career spanned appearances at Scarborough, Hartlepool, Darlington, Norwich, Bradford, Sheffield Wednesday, Barnsley, Mansfield, Gateshead and Harrogate Town, and whose name sounds like a joke from Monty Python’s Four Yorkshireman sketch.
From Carlos Kickaball to Willy Eckerslike. It’s not so much a plan as a sitcom in the making.