Africans in the Pyramid: #4 Jeffrey Schlupp & Riyad Mahrez
In the fourth Africans in the Pyramid feature, Africa Football Shop’s Football League Correspondent Cameron Melling profiles Leicester City pair Jeffrey Schlupp and Riyad Mahrez.
Neither man is an international regular, but considering the Foxes’ superb league form, and the contributions of both players, could either be in line for a World Cup call-up? Our Football League Correspondent certainly thinks so!
With promotion from the Championship sewn up for Leicester City, there are still two stars with everything to play for as the Foxes head towards their last four games of the season.
Ghana’s Jeffrey Schlupp and Algeria’s Riyad Mahrez will be hoping to impress in the final games of the year to try a secure a place in their national side for a trip to Brazil this summer.
The Story so Far
Jeffrey Schlupp joined the Leicester academy as a 12-year-old after his family had moved to England from Germany when he was at a young age.
The 2010/11 season saw him make his breakthrough, but not with the Foxes. The then-striker joined League One club Brentford on loan, where he enjoyed a successful start to his senior career, playing nine games which returned scoring six goals.
At the time, it looked like Schlupp had the potential to be a prolific scorer. On his return to the Leicester side the following season, the German-born Ghanaian managed 21 league appearances but only three starts. However, his reputations as a goal-scorer remained, as he picked up two goals in the league and also bagged a hat-trick in a League Cup match against Rotherham United.
This earned him his first call-up to the Ghana senior team. He made his debut as a substitute in a 2-1 friendly win over Gabon in November 2011.
Last season saw an interesting transition for Schlupp.
Having played his entire early career as either a striker or left winger, he was deployed at left-back where he made a good impression, that last January, he enjoyed a three-week trial with Premier League giants Manchester United. Whilst in Manchester, he featured in two matches for the club’s U-21 side.
On his return to the King Power Stadium he made the left-back spot his own and has continued to solidify his spot in the side this year, whilst continuing to prove his versatility as he fills in up front or on the left wing when needed.
Compared to Schlupp, Riyad Mahrez is a relative newcomer to English football, having only joined the Foxes in January this year.
The winger made the move to England after three-and-a-half years with French second tier side Le Harve. In the past past two seasons he had established himself on the wing for the Ligue 2 side having previously featured for Le Harve’s second team in the amateur divisions, which is where he started his career with Quimper FC.
Two goals and five assists in the first half of the season in Ligue 2 were enough to convince Leicester boss Nigel Pearson to spend £400,000 to bring him to the Championship.
Since his arrival in the East Midlands, Mahrez has been an instant success, picking up three goals and four assists so far. His impressive form has seen him start the past eight games in a row.
Despite being born in France, the 23-year-old is eligible to feature for Algeria and has expressed his desire to represent the Desert Foxes.
Players in Focus
A deeper look into Schlupp’s playing style shows why Manchester United were so interested in him last year.
Renowned for his versatility, the varying range of positions he can play in makes him a perfect utility man.
He has the pace and power to become a valuable attacking threat from left-back but also the knowledge to fulfil his defensive responsibilities and not put his own goal at risk.
His presence in defence was especially noticed towards the end of February and at the start of March, when the 21 year old started three games in a row at left-back, with all three games ending in 3-0 wins for the Foxes.
His performances have been enough to keep long-standing left-back and former England international Paul Konchesky out of the side.
Mahrez is also a left footer but he is equally as adept whilst playing on the right wing. This was obvious in his Man of the Match performance in the 3-1 win over Blackpool in March.
With the Foxes trailing 1-0 heading into the 60th minute, the tricky winger cut in from the right beating two defenders, before bending the ball beautifully into the far corner with his left foot. He then went on to chip a ball into the box from the left to set up Wes Morgan to give the Foxes the lead.
Mahrez has technique and flair in abundance. At 23, he is still enthusiastic and determined to prove himself at the highest level. It is that enthusiasm which helps him have tremendous self-belief, he is not satisfied until he has beaten his man.
His skill has seen him earn comparisons to Real Madrid’s superstar winger Angel Di Maria. The French-born Algerian certainly has the arrogance to pull off such an appraisal and boasts the ever-changing hairstyle to go with it.
This summer could well be crucial for both Schlupp and Mahrez.
The former’s last cap came in 2011 and the latter has yet to make his international debut.
However, with Ghana currently lacking a regular left-back, forcing usual right-back Harrison Afful to cover, Schlupp could be the man to fill the void after seeing regular game time in the Championship as a left-back.
His last appearance was also as a striker, now a left-back, he could be in line for a call-up to the Black Stars’ squad, but under a very different guise.
A call-up could also be in line for Mahrez, despite there currently being many wingers in the Algeria set up.
He could be a real wildcard for the side in this year’s World Cup. The left-footer’s ability is undoubted and if he can replicate the same form for the national side as he has produced for club, it could be an all too tempting proposition.
It might also be difficult for Algeria boss Vahid Halilhodžić to turn down a match-winner such as Mahrez, with World Cup matches often decided by one moment of genius.
The Greens are also no stranger to calling up French-born stars, with Saphir Taider and more recently Nabil Bentaleb, both featuring after stints with France at youth level.
This summer could see two Africans from Leicester travelling to Brazil.