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Leicester's Mahrez voted England's Player of the Year

Published:Monday | April 25, 2016 | 4:00 AM
Leicester'’s Riyad Mahrez (right).

LONDON (AP):

Leicester winger Riyad Mahrez became the first African to be named English football's player of the year yesterday, straight after the Algerian helped his team close in on the Premier League title.

Mahrez was flown by helicopter to the Professional Footballers' Association ceremony in London after scoring his 17th goal of Leicester's astonishing title charge as the leaders beat Swansea 4-0 at the King Power Stadium in central England.

Mahrez was on a six-man shortlist including Leicester teammates Jamie Vardy and N'Golo Kante for the vote of their fellow professionals in English football.

"I'm very grateful to receive this award," Mahrez said. "It's extra special because if the players vote for me, it's because they've seen I've been great this year, so I'm happy. But it's more team things. Without my teammates, I wouldn't get this award."

The 25-year-old Mahrez is only the second winner of the PFA award from outside England. Uruguay striker Luis Suarez won it in 2014 while playing for Liverpool.

Unlike Suarez, Mahrez was an unknown when he moved to England two years ago, joining Leicester from second tier French side Le Havre for less than 500,000 pounds.

The transfer now seems one of the best bargains ever in English football, where the record fee is the 59.7 million pounds that Manchester United paid for Angel Di Maria in 2014 before selling the winger the following year.

Mahrez has provided inventiveness and flair to Leicester's attacking play, contributing not only goals but also 11 assists to help transform a team that fought for Premier League survival last season. Now a guaranteed starter, Mahrez was an unused substitute this weekend a year ago when Leicester beat Burnley to finally escape the relegation zone.

Leicester started the season as a 5,000-1 title outsider but is now set to become English football's first maiden championship winner since Nottingham Forest in 1978.

"The secret has been team spirit," Mahrez said. "We work so hard for each other. We are like brothers, it's everywhere on the pitch. That's our strength."