Born and grew in a gritty Paris suburb, Riyad Mahrez has gone on to become one of the leading force players as he makes a return to Paris, French capital for an epic showdown between Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain in Champions League semis this week.
Mahrez, 30, has been an instrumental player for City this season, scoring in their Champions League quarter-final win over Borussia Dortmund and playing the 90 minutes as Pep Guardiola’s side defeated Tottenham Hotspur in the English League Cup final on Sunday.
He has also won the Africa Cup of Nations with Algeria, the country from where his father emigrated to France.
From his childhood, Mahrez grew up in Sarcelles, in the “banlieues” around 20 kilometres north of Paris, and learned the game at a local amateur club, becoming an icon to those who played with him as he made his journey to one of Europe’s biggest sides.
“The only person who believed was Riyad himself,” Hayel Mbemba, who played with Mahrez at AAS Sarcelles, told AFP. “He has a strength of character which is above the average. He is football crazy, and that is an understatement.”
“He owes his success entirely to himself. He had an unwavering self-confidence. Some people might think it’s arrogance but it’s not the case,” explains Mohamed Coulibaly, who runs the local club.
However, the auspicious production line of world-class players coming from the Paris suburbs is highly remarkable and seemingly never-ending, from Thierry Henry to Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe and many more in between.
With Mahrez being a young player with fascinating technical skills on the pitch did not have the initial belief of making it this far in the world of football.
His former coaches recall how his frail physique seemed to work against him, but at age 18, he left Sarcelles for a trial at Quimper, an amateur fourth-tier club in distant Brittany. He then earned a professional deal at Le Havre, the second-division club where Pogba first played.
Mahrez spent four years in the Normandy port city before crossing the English Channel to sign for Leicester City, then in the second-tier Championship.
He has never looked back since moving to England, but sources close to Mahrez say he was “hesitant” and that he “sought the advice of his friends in Sarcelles who convinced him to go”.