In this article, we take a look at how a British boyband bizarrely scuppered Riyad Mahrez’s Scottish football move to St Mirren.
The 30 year old is now getting ready to compete in the Champions League final this weekend with Manchester City – but back when he was 17, the Algerian was trying his best to impress St Mirren.
What a rise Mahrez has had throughout his career! He’s risen from obscurity in French football, signing for Leicester City in 2014 and being part of English football’s greatest story, the how they won the Premier League against the odds in 2016. His success and impressive performances then saw him move to Manchester City two years later and Mahrez has won two more league titles.
His first European crown could be next up for Mahrez as Man City look to defeat fellow English club Chelsea. But in a previous interview, the winger revealed how St Mirren offered him the chance to develop ‘physically’ before starting his journey to silverware with Quimper Kerfeunteun FC in France, who currently play in the sixth tier of French football.
Mahrez said in 2017: “In these two months in Scotland I really improved physically. I played with the English spirit as well – it’s the same as British spirit. It was very intense physically and I think these two months helped me. When I came back to France I had better movement, better things in my qualities.
“That helped me to become the player I am now. So now it has become my strength. I played like four games and scored seven goals. They were saying, every game, game after game, ‘We don’t know, we have to see, we have to wait’.
“The agent who sent me to Scotland said to me, ‘Riyad, just come back because we don’t know what they are doing there, they keep stopping you from signing there’. So I was quite happy to come back because Scotland was very difficult and very cold. I was young. I’d never been away from my family for that long.”
Mahrez’s agent Jake Duncan is a huge player in the music industry. He worked as tour manager for the band JLS around the time of Mahrez having his St Mirren trial but has also worked with artists and bands like Black Sabbath, Wham!, Olly Murs, Oasis, Bruce Springsteen and The Who, amongst many others.
Duncan was well-known in the Scottish sports industry too on top of his music connections.
St Mirren looked at the player for a couple of months but decided against offering him a deal, manager at the time Gus MacPherson opting for more experienced players like Billy Mehmet.
David Longwell, who was St Mirren’s head of youth when Mahrez was about, kept him at the club for as long as he could, with the Algerian a bright spark in training. Currently in a similar role at Shrewsbury Town, Longwell described how Mahrez never got a deal in Paisley.
Longwell told NTOF: “There was an agent called Jake Duncan, great guy. He was the tour manager for JLS and a really good guy. He’s well-known in Scotland and would bring boys over from France to Airdrie, Morton, here, there and everywhere. He got in touch with me regarding some younger players.
“Sometimes he would bring over five or six boys at a time. We would ship them in, they would stay at the Abbey Inn, Paisley, and they would come in for trial. Riyad came in with another four or five boys and right away showed his ability.
“He was very under developed but it was quite similar with what we did as an academy. We brought through Kenny McLean, Lewis Morgan, and they had a lot of developing to go. The hard thing for us at that time was Riyad only had three months left of being an age suitable for the academy.”
Mahrez made the jump to first-team football quick, and Longwell wanted him to stick around, but the former Scottish Premiership club’s youth leader explained: “After that he had to go and play in the first-team. Even though he did well at the time, I had spoken to Jake on the phone and we asked to keep him longer. But it wasn’t my decision in the end.
“The management did watch him in a game but at that time they didn’t feel he was ready for first-team football. Maybe he wasn’t, but you are trying to look at it longer-term. Managers need to try and win games of football and look at things in the here and now. The striker we had at the time was Billy Mehmet and he was a big guy!
“For the management, it wasn’t the right time to give Riyad a contract. But he was a great talent and my boys loved him because he used to run rings around us! I tried to keep him as long as I could but it’s not my decision to hand out first-team contracts. He did take a while to develop, he was still playing Ligue 2 at 23.
“He’s a great example for anyone to look at as you need to be aware of the long-term development of players. We’ve done well when we look at some of our guys, but you have to have that patience. The structure in Scotland for young players at that time wasn’t great, but if the structure had been like the U20s structure, I could have given him a year.”
I love the what if stories in football like that. pic.twitter.com/wl1gaYECBm
— Callum McFadden (@CallumCFB) May 4, 2021
Fans reacted to how a British boyband scuppered Riyad Mahrez’s St Mirren move, see what they had to say on it…
@frompaisley: Lots of clubs got it wrong with young players that’s the gamble.
@Alfredo18721872: I mean he wouldn’t get ahead of the mighty – lIkay Durmas let’s be real here
@Mothschops: Saved his career.
@Scoash912: St Mirren had MAHREZ at 17 and said he wasn’t good enough shows how the world of football works… I had greig Stewart in my back pocket but now hes champion of scotland and am drunk tweeting about him 😂😂
@andyhy88: Just shows how if u have the wrong people in charge of making decisions at the wrong time in can cost you millions woeful decision from st mirren as a club whoever let a player like mahrez leave
@BillyNelsonBox: It was cold ffs grow a pair 😀😀😀😀
@JimJmcgowan: I used to collect all the trialists at that time. Get them at the airport or train station in Glasgow. Take them to their digs or hotel. Show them the stadium,training ground stuff like that. I can honestly say I have no recollection of Mahrez ever being in at St Mirren then.
@steflachcomms: We had him for two months and couldn’t work out (despite his 7 goals in 4 games) that we was something special? Brilliant Saints, nothing like having your finger on the pulse. 🙄😢
@gordon1957: Depends on the quality of the opposition I suppose.
@IanHorswell: I didn’t know this. Oops! 7 goals in 4 games too!
@IainVeitch1: Paisley, Leicester and Manchester….always baltic
@sfdiscordguy: Scottish coaches after the 1990s it appears they forgot what a top footballer looks like. Barely producing any since and even when there was opportunities to sign some they passed up on it. Unrivalled
@GrahamOrr15: Leicester paid £400,000 for him, they got just over £60 million for him. A decent profit.
@ScottMcKean7: Sums this country up 🤣
@davidreid1995: As long as @Mahrez22 has a big wage packet he doesn’t like cold weather
@andyb29: @Stephen76194910 mental
@n30hrg: Insaaaaane. Probably wouldn’t have turned out the player he has if he went there tbh
@TheGlenLoyal: 7 goals in 4 games, Na yer shite 🤣
@sayersy1872: 7 goals in 4 games on trial at st mirren but…. “nah we won’t bother with you we will give billy mehmet a deal instead” Scottish fitbaw in a nutshell! 😩🥴
@MattG95: You see, this is where he went wrong: He isn’t 6ft 3+. He isn’t built like a bricklayer. He has technical ability. He has flair. He scored goals. All these points make him ineligible for Scottish team outside Rangers and Celtic.
@r_mackenzie8: I actually played alongside him in a bounce game against Morton on the Astro at ferguslie. Had no idea it was him until my old man reminded me the year he won the league with Leicester. What a player
@OfficialRG90: Remember they also sacked Sir Alex Ferguson.
@140lee: Sums up old dinosaurs in charge of Scottish football teams. Guaranteed they said he was too small and not strong enough…
@_crawfordcallum: Didn’t realise that Mahrez was at the buddies for that length of time and they still messed around and didn’t sign. Incredible.
@jstodd25: Incredible to think what if but at least he looks back on the time positively, so many guys at the time weren’t tall enough, strong enough or fast enough because you needed all 3 to be a footballer apparently, ability never mattered back then to coaches in scotland (at all level)
@sj71357180: What could have been for Mahrez playing for the saints in a Scottish cup semi final on Sunday v the fakes or scoring 2 against PSG to make the champions league final. Also heard a story he stole Jamie langfields bike to make a getaway.
@marky1877: Mahrez fobbed off around the same time as Mooy was sitting on a spin bike in the corner every week
@tamdouglas: I think St Mirren missed a trick to be honest with this one😂