As he prepares to face former club Leicester City with Manchester City, Riyad Mahrez yearns for the time he was the main man.
It was in the Foxes’ remarkable Premier League triumph three years age that the Algerian winger came to the footballing fore, with his inspirational efforts landing him the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award and later named seventh in the prestigious Ballon d’Or list.
Even though he helped City claim a domestic treble of league, FA Cup and EFL Cup in a dream debut campaign after his £60 million move to the Etihad last year – and then went on to lead his country to a first Africa Cup of Nations title since 1990 and being shortlisted for the Ballon d’Or again – Mahrez is still striving for more.
Not only further trophies with City, but to reach the greatest of heights personally as he looks to recapture the fabulous form at Leicester which earned him accolades worldwide.
“Of course that’s the level I want to reach again,” Mahrez told Sport360 exclusively.
“That’s why we are all playing football, that’s why I’m here.
“We always have ambition and I am trying to come back to that level. I am feeling good.
“It’s also very special for me to be nominated for awards like that, being in the last 30 of the Ballon d’Or. It’s something amazing, I’m very happy.
“Last season, what we won, was special, but we always try to do more and more and more. We always try to give more, to want more. It’s the best thing to do if you want to be the best.”
Having taken time to settle last season and given 14 league starts, Mahrez still managed seven goals as City claimed back-to-back titles, and five in the other competitions.
He wants to make a greater contribution in this campaign and a magical AFCON tournament in the summer, where the 28-year-old captained his country to glory with class and courage, provided the perfect platform.
With confidence restored, Mahrez has assisted eight goals, scoring five, including a wonderful solo winner against Chelsea last month. His strike at Burnley was also his 50th Premier League goal, becoming the first Algerian and ninth African player to reach the landmark.
“When I came back to the club he said well done and he’s happy for me to win the African Cup,” said Mahrez of Guardiola’s words at the start of the season.
“I’m proud to be the captain of Algeria, it’s my country and I’m very happy to play for them, very happy to give everything and to win that cup. We have a great team and a great manager for Algeria.
“What happened gave me a lot of confidence and I want to continue like that this season with City.
“I think I can show more and more now. I just need to play, to keep going and become a player who if I keep playing I can give more and more and more.
“Just try to keep doing what I did [against Chelsea]. It was one of the best goals I’ve scored yes, but the most important thing was that I helped the team win.”
After helping City beat Oxford on Wednesday to secure a EFL Cup semi-final meeting with Manchester United, Mahrez will hope to play against the high-flying Foxes on Saturday.
Leicester are four points ahead of City in second place, but 10 adrift of leaders Liverpool.
“Of course you want to play all the time, but the manager decides and you have to accept it,” added Mahrez. “When the manager wants me to play I will try to help the team.”