Riyad Mahrez’s move to Saudi Arabia last summer was a big shock for football fans but no-one was stunned more than his wife, model and influencer Taylor Ward.
The 26-year-old, who is the daughter of Real House of Cheshire star Dawn and former Premier League player Ashley, went viral after a clip for her new documentary showed Mahrez’s blunt reaction to her shock when finding out she was set to move to Saudi Pro League club Al-Ahli.
Ward said she was ‘overwhelmed’ when Mahrez informed her they would be leaving Man City and moving to Jeddah at short notice, with the winger telling her: ‘It’s part of the game, innit,’ after she had expressed concern that she would be ‘sat at home on my own’.
That moment will be documented in the upcoming Prime Video show Married to the Game, which is also set to detail the couple’s move to Saudi and show how they’ve since settled into the country. Other wives and girlfriends of footballers will exhibit their own lifestyles in subsequent episodes.
Ward admitted Mahrez’s response to her ‘still haunts me’, but said the Algerian player was ‘straight-talking’ and ‘to the point’ as she opened up on the ’emotional rollercoaster’ while speaking to Mail Sport.
Taylor Ward – the wife of former Premier League star Riyad Mahrez – has revealed what living in Saudi Arabia is like after her shock move to the Middle East
The influencer said she was loyal to Mahrez and trusts him over the move, insisting that she can work anywhere in the world
Mahrez’s reaction to Ward’s emotional response to the news went viral after he brutally said: ‘It’s part of the game innit’
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‘That line haunts me,’ she said, as she explained that a clip of her crying was after a sitdown with her sister later on.
‘I keep seeing it on social media. That whole week was just an emotional rollercoaster really. It was a huge shock and I had absolutely no idea. One day we were planning for Riyad to go back to pre-season with City and then overnight we were moving to Saudi and I was planning this whole move.
‘I think it was just very overwhelming at the time and a massive shock because I just didn’t see it coming at all. That scene with Riyad – that is just him to a tee. He is just straight talking and to the point. He is very much just like, “it is what it is, you’ve got to get over it now”, whereas I’m more emotional. That’s why we work because I’m a bit of a flapper in those situations and he’s very on the ball and just gets on with it.’
Ward spoke of how the pair were on holiday when Mahrez received the offer before he jetted home to say his goodbyes to his Manchester City team-mates – and the wheels started turning quickly. The fast-nature of the move left her with little time to process things, or even say her own goodbyes to people at the Etihad.
‘We were actually on holiday at the time and there was talk about the move,’ said Ward.
‘Riyad had a few years left on his contract at City and was really settled there. Every conversation was “we’re not going to move yet, it’s something we’ll consider in a few years”. I started hearing people from Saudi showing interest but never thought anything would come of it.
‘He flew home two days early to start pre-season so as far as I was concerned he was going back to Man City and that was it. One day he rang me while I was sat on the beach and said “we’re moving and I’m going tomorrow, that’s it”.
‘He put me on the phone to one of the girls at the club and I burst into tears – I was like “I can’t believe this is happening”. It happened so quick, you don’t get a minute to say bye to everyone. One minute he was starting pre-season, the next he was saying goodbye.’
Ward is a social media sensation with nearly 3million followers on her Instagram account
Ward said she was ‘overwhelmed’ after ex-Man City star Mahrez informed her he would be joining Saudi Pro League side Al-Ahli
Married to the Game will show how the Mahrez family – including their 18-month-old daughter Mila – have settled into Jeddah, though Ward revealed she has so far been travelling back and forth from Manchester as she wraps up preparations to permanently move into their home.
Much has been made of restrictions in Saudi Arabia. The family of former Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson lived in the more commercial Bahrain during his ill-fated six-month spell, though they still struggled to settle before he sealed a move to Ajax in the Netherlands.
Mail Sport reported how the wife one one player who had joined a Saudi club last summer was being hissed at in a shopping centre for wearing shorts.
Meanwhile, searing temperatures of 30 degrees and paltry crowds at stadiums have also lessened the appetite for stars joining the Saudi revolution in a country that is set to host the 2030 World Cup.
However, Ward insists she has been ‘surprised’ by life in the Middle East, having been made to feel a little bit closer to home after finding solace in a few creature comforts – including spotting an unlikely Nando’s chain.
‘So far, the experience has been amazing,’ she added. ‘There’s obviously no alcohol so I won’t be having a glass of wine! To be honest, there’s more there than I originally thought. When I went on my first trip, I saw a Nando’s. I was just like “I’m so happy they’ve got Nando’s”.
‘The vibe is just very different. It’s a lot more chilled out there, it’s quieter and calmer, whereas in Manchester life is so busy – there’s so much going on and we’re always going out for dinner and seeing friends. That’s probably what I’m missing the most, seeing family and friends rather than what the country is missing.
‘The people have been so lovely – I think that was actually a massive shock, how nice everyone has been. You can’t compare it to the UK – it’s nothing like here. I’m enjoying it so far, it just feels like I’m on holiday, I don’t feel like I’ve moved there yet.’
Mahrez and Ward got married in September for the second time – after first having a Muslim ceremony in 2022
The restriction that cannot be escaped is the obvious segregations on gender, such as those seen in swimming pools and hotels, some of which only allow couples to stay together if they are married.
But Ward claimed rules are being relaxed all the time, adding: ‘I think it depends on where you go. At the moment they’re looking at relaxing these rules. From what I had heard, I was worried about that stuff when we first went, but it’s surprised me. It’s more relaxed from what I was first told.’
When put to her about Henderson’s family living in the neighbouring Bahrain, she reiterated that she was happy in Jeddah and planned to be there for the foreseeable future.
‘I’m not just saying this, I actually really like it,’ she said. ‘I can’t fault it so far, we’ve really enjoyed it. We’ve just got our house here so I’ll definitely be staying in Jeddah and won’t be going anywhere else.
‘It’s got beautiful beaches, shops, restaurants. I don’t think there would be any need to move anywhere else. I’ll be in Jeddah for the forseeable that’s for sure.’
The series will explore other couples and their journeys to other destinations to follow the dreams of football stars, such as Sarah Gundogan travelling with husband Ilkay – a former City team-mate of Mahrez – this time going from Manchester to the more liberal Barcelona.
So, would Ward fancy going to any other destination of her choice if the power were in her hands?
She has maintained that wherever Mahrez goes, she goes – a vow that was made very early on in their relationship once things became serious, respecting that the player himself has a short career and needs to make the most of it.
‘We always agreed from the beginning that with football things change and wherever he went I’d go with him,’ she said.
Ward said the pair – who have an 18-month-old daughter, Mila – have been surprised by life in Saudi Arabia and are enjoying it so far
‘I’m very fortunate that with my job I can easily travel and I don’t have anything holding me back in that sense. It was always something that I agreed to and said “listen, I want us to stick together as a family”. Football careers are so short and you have to make the most of it.
‘It was still a massive shock and when that day comes you can’t prepare for it. Riyad will always do what’s best for the family. If it was somewhere really shocking, he wouldn’t agree to go in the first place. I trust him.’
As for her friends and family – that has been one of the biggest wrenches of this move for Ward. She said they were ‘devastated’ and that not having them around was the toughest part, although a sweetener in the move is having her parents living in Dubai, just a two-hour flight away.
‘Everyone’s been really supportive,’ Ward said. ‘Obviously it was a shock at the beginning. My grandparents still live in the UK and they were devastated that I was leaving. It’s only a five-and-a-half hour flight if they want to see me. We’ll just do trips there and back and family will come see me.
‘My mum and dad live in Dubai which is a two-hour flight away. They have been to Saudi six or seven times already – constantly turning up to come and see me which is nice.’
There have already been murmurs of discontent from a handful of star names who have recently moved to the Saudi Pro League.
In addition to Henderson being unsettled, former Liverpool man Roberto Firmino was reportedly eyeing a return to the Premier League, while ex-Real Madrid foward Karim Benzema fell out with his manager at Al-Ittihad, with rumours he was seeking an exit.
But the same cannot be said for Mahrez, who Ward says is loving life at Al-Ahli and has no plans to return to the Premier League or move anywhere else for the meantime.
‘Football is so unpredictable, when that transfer window opens you have no idea what’s going to happen,’ she went on. ‘For now, the plan is to stay in Saudi for a few years and enjoy it. I put so much effort into making this house nice so I want to live in it for a bit and enjoy settling down.
Ward said she hoped people saw what she was really like as a person and not just the ‘glamorous’ side in the documentary alongside Mahrez
‘We’ll see, who knows – right now he’s really enjoying it. He loves his club and he’s met some nice friends, a few other French guys on the team who he gets on really well with.’
Ward has done a bit of that settling in herself by meeting up with fellow wives and girlfriends of Mahrez’s team-mates at Al-Ahli, many of whom are ‘in the same boat’ exploring and discovering a new country in unfamiliar surroundings.
She is hoping now that fans and viewers will see a different side to her and not just the ‘glamorous side’ that everyone sees on social media, insisting her life is ‘not all roses and rainbows’.
‘A lot of people see pictures on Instagram of our lives and think everything is so perfect and glamorous, but they don’t see what we’re like as people and what goes on behind the scenes,’ Ward said.
‘I hope it gives people a better insight into that and lets people get to know us better in that sense, and see that it’s not all roses and rainbows.
‘We’re not these perfect people that lead these amazing, glamorous lives – we’re actually very normal as well. I hope they get to see a bit of both.’
Source: Daily Mail