LONDON — Riyad Mahrez paid tribute to the Leicester owner killed in a helicopter crash after scoring Manchester City’s goal in a 1-0 win over Tottenham in the English Premier League on Monday.
The winger celebrated his sixth-minute strike at Wembley Stadium by pointing both of his arms skyward in memory of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who died with four other people when his helicopter crashed outside Leicester’s stadium after a match on Saturday. Mahrez played for Leicester from 2014 until moving to City this summer, and was a star of its 2016 Premier League-winning team bankrolled by Vichai.
"The boss was very special to me," Mahrez said. "He was such a good person. I was very, very sad — that’s why when I scored, I put my hands up for him.
"It was heartbreaking and shocking to have this news, and of course with the other people who died with him. It’s a difficult situation."
Mahrez said it had been "difficult to sleep" since the tragedy that has sparked an outpouring of grief in English soccer and beyond, but added that he always wanted to play in Monday’s match.
"I know he would have wanted me to play," Mahrez said of Vichai. "He was very passionate about football."
City returned to the top of the standings, on goal difference from Liverpool, after an eighth win in 10 games, and remained unbeaten in its title defence.
Not only did the champions have to overcome a Tottenham side that had made its best nine-game start to a Premier League, they did so on a field damaged and discolored by an NFL game on Sunday.
Coming a day after a game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Wembley field had a faded NFL crest in the centre circle, yardage markings all over, and an uneven surface. Both flanks were heavily discolored.
That hardly made for great PR for the most marketed soccer league in the world, and it probably didn’t help the quality on show between two of the Premier League’s top clubs, who both play an attractive passing game.
City manager Pep Guardiola said the state of the pitch made the game "so complicated."
"It’s a question for the Premier League and for Tottenham," Guardiola said, when asked if the standard of the playing surface was "unacceptable."
"We were invited to come here for the fixture. But hopefully they can solve that problem."
Mahrez swept in the only goal after an impressive run from Raheem Sterling, who pounced on a defensive mistake from Kieran Trippier to latch onto the loose ball and then go round the Tottenham defender before reaching the byline.
Sterling’s low cross was met with a first-time finish from Mahrez from close range.
The Algeria international also had a shot tipped onto the post by goalkeeper Hugo Lloris in the first half, while Harry Kane passed up Tottenham’s best chance when he overran the ball in a one-on-one with City goalkeeper Ederson Moraes and was tackled.
Erik Lamela squandered a great chance for an equalizer in the 80th minute, blazing a shot over the crossbar with just Ederson to beat.
He won’t have been helped by the ball bouncing up off the bobbly surface before he took his shot.
City has conceded only three goals in the league, and has already played Arsenal, Liverpool, and Tottenham away from home — taking seven points from a possible nine in those games.