Riyad Mahrez says he and his Leicester team-mates having been living in a “bubble” as they close in on what would be the club’s first ever league title.
The Algerian, who won the PFA Player of the Year earlier this month, has been instrumental in Leicester’s improbable march to the Premier League title.
In an interview with L’Equipe magazine in France, the 25-year-old admitted the unlikely rise of Claudio Ranieri’s side had taken him by surprise.
“Not too much, no. Although we feel something is happening in England, but we live a little in our bubble,” said Mahrez, when asked if he is aware that the whole of Europe is rooting for Leicester to win the title.
“We do not have the best players, nor the biggest budget, but our solidarity compels admiration. We had a bit of luck too. It was this year or never. Until January, we did not think of the title. It has become possible, but we will not let it go to our heads.”
With a seven-point lead over second-placed Tottenham, Leicester can clinch the title with a win at Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday. Mahrez, like his team-mates Jamie Vardy and N’Golo Kanté, who were also included on the PFA shortlist, were latecomers to top flight football. The Algerian thinks that their unconventional career path – England forward Vardy dropped as low as non-league football – has ensured that they don’t take themselves too seriously.
“We were not programmed to become pros. We live with some form of carelessness,” said Mahrez.
“With N’Golo, we laugh. It’s impossible in our history, even if nothing is done. Wes Morgan, our captain, was also detected later on. But frankly, internally, there is no difference between conventional pros and us. It’s nice. Jamie Vardy and myself we have fun during matches. With him, it shows on TV more than me, but we’re all casual.
“In Sarcelles, you already told me to stop laughing because I chambrais (mess about) constantly. I am a very funny guy. Finally, I do not want to get flowers… I’m having fun. In France, in the clubs where I was at, I was a little Djamel Debbouze (a French comedian). A little less here in England.”
Mahrez also spoke about the time he stole a bike to escape a trial at Scottish side St Mirren.
“It was physical and it was cold. We trained in the snow! I felt that I progressed, I wasn’t allowed to go so I left in secret,” he said.
“I borrowed a bike so I could get my things I had left at the training ground, before catching a train to the airport and going home.”