Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez has spoken ahead of this weekend’s Champions League final discussing his evolving role in Pep Guardiola’s side, becoming a senior figure at the Etihad, and staying connected with his loyal fans in the Arab world.
The 30-year-old Algerian has played a pivotal role in a number of big games this season – including a brace in the second leg of the Champions League semi final second leg against PSG, to add to the winner he netted in Paris.
He now heads to Portugal with a City side looking to etch its name in the history books as they seek a first Champions League triumph when they take on Chelsea in Porto.
Ahead of the game, he had this to say….
Q. How have you felt your role in the team has developed this season?
A. I think the longer you are with a team the easier it is to settle into the way of playing, to know what is expected of you and how your teammates play too. That is really important. This season is my third year here and I know the manager, I know the players, I know the system better than ever. After that it’s just about working hard and performing and I hope I’ve done that this season.
Q. There have been some big performances in Europe so how much are you looking forward to the final?
A. It’s a huge moment for everyone in the team, something you dream of as a kid. We’ve obviously wanted to get to this stage for a long time and now we’re here, we want to make sure we lift the trophy. We’ve played really strong teams to get here and those games weren’t easy. There were moments against Dortmund and PSG when people would have looked at us and said maybe they won’t make it. But we came together as a group and now we play maybe the biggest games of our club careers. It’s a dream for any player to play at this level and we’re looking to go out there and do what we can to win.
Q. How was Ramadan this year and how did you celebrate Eid?
A. Ramadan is obviously an important time for me like it is for so many people. Eid is also incredibly special. Both were good this year and I hope that was the same for everyone.
Q. You are now an experienced player so how do you help the younger players in the squad?
A. It’s strange as a footballer. You come through the system as a young kid, you break into the team, you’re the young one in the squad and then all of a sudden you’re one of the more experienced players! But I enjoy it. There’s a strong group of players here and the only difference I suppose is what we’ve all done on the way to joining Manchester City. We all have experiences that we can share, difficult moments we found a way through and we try to do that across the squad. Obviously, it’s important to help the young guys as much as we can because they have so much talent and just need bits of advice here and there to help them along their own paths.
Q. How do you stay connected to your fans in the Middle East?
A. I hope that my social media keeps all my fans feeling connected to what I’m doing here in England. I certainly feel the love from the guys who support me on there. These guys push you to be better and make you proud to play at the top level because every football fan dreams of what we get to do and that’s very special. I hope they feel part of my journey here and I’m just so grateful for all their support.
Q. Millions of them will be watching the final – can you send a message of thanks to them ahead of it?
A. I just want to say a big thank you to everyone who supports the club. It’s been a strange season where we’ve not been able to see the fans and have them with us at games but we know that everyone is watching and cheering us on from home. In the difficult moments out on the pitch, that idea can really push you on to achieve so everyone is so important to this success. We have already won the League Cup and the Premier League for our fans and the final will be special so everyone should enjoy it and hopefully we can win the trophy for everyone out there who loves City.
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