He won’t dwell on it. Nor will Kamel Bengougam, the Algeria international’s agent. They’ve been through worse together. This is chump’s stuff compared to the days of Jose Anigo, Vincent Labrune and Olympique Marseille.
No, let us do the wailing. Let us question how Premier League clubs. Cashed up Premier League clubs. Were throwing the bank at reluctant players in the final hours of the transfer window, all the while Mahrez sat there, in a Paris airport lounge, waiting for a call.
There’s nowt rhetorical about this one. We are seriously baffled. Chelsea fans. Gooners. Even Liverpool supporters. Tell us. Please. Why would your clubs. Your managers. Ignore last year’s Premier League Player of the Year? Particularly when he was available for nigh on half what that ridiculous auction for Thomas Lemar had produced.
For Arsenal, this really should sting. Mahrez, we know, wanted a move to the Emirates. Roma? Chelsea? No. He wanted to be a Gooner. If Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, had put in the call the deal would’ve been done.
Instead, he went chasing Lemar.
Now, to be fair, they were convinced the AS Monaco winger was theirs on Wednesday morning. Ivan Gazidis, the Gunners chief exec, confirmed as much to his opposite number at Manchester City, Ferran Soriano. The deal was there to be signed off. As soon as Monaco accepted their offer, Alexis Sanchez would be released to City. It was all set for Thursday morning. A morning, which for us, began with news coming out of Algeria of Mahrez leaving their camp. London? Barcelona? No-one knew where he was. Until a snap emerged from Paris airport. He was waiting for a call. Any call. Ready to fly back to England for a medical and negotiations. Though, from what was coming out of France, it appeared Arsenal was off the agenda.
But then came Liverpool‘s call. A €90m bid. And Monaco warning Arsenal to get a move on. It was past noon. A shaken Gazidis countered: €100m! Vadim Vasilyev, ASM’s dealmaker, took a step back. Pondered. And decided both offers were acceptable.
The call went into Lemar. Vasilyev caught the midfielder in transit on his way to the Stade de France. It was his choice. Liverpool or Arsenal. But the 21 year-old chose a third. This was no way to make a life-changing decision. Millions. Multi-millions were being thrown at him. But Lemar was the calmest man in the room. And as Mahrez watched on from his phone, it began to break in the early evening: Lemar was staying.
Across the channel, Chelsea had struck terms with Everton. Ross Barkley was on his way to London. He couldn’t get a game under Ronald Koeman. Largely unproven since the Dutchman had taken charge. Yet, Chelsea went for the England international over Mahrez.
Arsenal was his dream, but the Algerian would’ve jumped at the chance to join the champions. In-form. Fully fit and a title winner. Three things that wouldn’t describe Barkley. Yet, it was the Everton midfielder’s signing Chelsea chose to pour everything into on deadline day.
And, again to be fair, it looked like it was a done deal. But then, just like Lemar, the lad pulled out. And for the same reasons. On a crazy deadline day, Barkley was feeling railroaded into a move he hadn’t fully considered. He also wanted to hear from Tottenham. But Daniel Levy, the Spurs chairman, never made that expected call to Finch Farm. No offer was ever made. For Everton, it was Chelsea or bust. And Barkley chose the latter – literally. The England international facing the next four months in the stands, with Koeman showing no intention of including him in his plans.
And, of course, as this drama unfolded into the evening, there was Mahrez. In an airport lounge. Following it all on his phone. Ready. Willing. And ignored.
Barkley’s development had stalled. He’d done nothing over the past year to warrant a move to the champions. Yes, Lemar was flying for Monaco. And he proved his quality on deadline night with a brace against Holland. But in terms of the Premier League and the transition. The midfielder was unproven. A €100m roll of the dice.
In contrast, Mahrez has proven himself time and again. From L2 with Le Havre. To the Championship at Leicester. To the Premier League. To title winners. And the Champions League. He has shown a capability to adjust and thrive whenever moving to a higher level. Just what could he produce with better players around him?
This deadline day would shatter lesser characters. But Mahrez will use it as motivation. Just as he has for the past three years, driven by the rejection and insults from Labrune and Anigo, now formerly of Marseille.
Offered Mahrez in 2014, then OM president Labrune replied: “To save time, let me tell you, we try to be professional and qualitative with our recruitment. The probability of us taking this sort of player is zero. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t put up with people taking me for a sucker.”
Anigo, meanwhile, assured a younger Mahrez “we want you to sign”. But the midfielder recalls: “…then I was finally told, ‘no we’re out. We have a player here, we want him to make it. You play the same role, we do not want to recruit you to compete with him’.”
And for the past three years, Mahrez has been proving both men wrong. As he will those who ignored him on Thursday, having waited by his phone for someone to call.