The extraordinary career of Senegalese Édouard Mendy

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As football fans anticipate the African Cup of Nations (CAN) tournament in Cameroon, all eyes are on one of the tournament’s key players, and one of African football’s greatest talents, Senegal and Chelsea goalkeeper Édouard Mendy. AXADLETM looks back on its journey.

As the sports stories progress, Rocky Balboa has nothing on Édouard Mendy. Seven years ago, it looked like his career ended in failure at the age of 23 – not exactly young in the world of football, where prodigies like Wayne Rooney become titans of the game at 16.

Mendy’s three years at Cherbourg had led nowhere; he was released at the end of his contract in 2014. His agent stopped responding to his messages; no club took him away. After a year as a free agent, Mendy almost accepted a friend’s offer to work in a clothing store.

But another friend’s offer was from a different perspective. A former Cherbourg teammate was friends with Marseille goalkeeper coach Dominique Bernatowicz, who was looking for a reserve goalkeeper. Bernatowitz immediately saw that he had a star on his hands: “From the first training session I could see he was a cut above,” he told The Guardian.

Bernatowicz put Mendy in touch with an agent who could transfer him to a Ligue 2 club and get him regular football; he joined Reims at the start of 2016-17. Luck stepped in once again for Mendy, as loyal Reims goalkeeper Johann Carrasso was sent off five minutes after the start of the season opener – allowing Mendy to step in and prove his fledgling abilities.

Talent in full bloomThe following season, Mendy became Reims’ first-choice goalkeeper, playing a crucial role in the club de l’Est’s 2017-18 victory in Ligue 2. Mendy went on to establish himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the French elite, as Reims jumped to finish in 8th place in Ligue 1 2018-19. Reims’ rise in the league – as he scored 14 clean sheets, the third-highest total in Ligue 1 this season.

After helping Reims to step up from the shadows in the middle of the French elite, Mendy took a new step by joining Rennes in early 2019-2020. The Breton club was a pillar of Ligue 1, but also of European football which had never played in the Champions League.

Mendy showed how much he improved on his debut against Strasbourg: Soon after recovering from a broken finger, he saved a penalty to retain a shutout in a 2-0 triumph reindeer. Mendy exemplified this combination of unwavering perseverance and consummate skill in scoring goals throughout this Covid-marked season as Rennes climbed to 3rd place, claiming their very first place in club football’s most prestigious competition.

Looking back through Mendy’s astonishing career arc, perhaps the most surprising thing is that a football colossus didn’t spot him and capture him sooner. But the moment has finally arrived in the summer of 2020. Eager for their erratic form under club legend Frank Lampard, Chelsea needed a world-class goalkeeper to move the declining Kepa Arrizabalaga. Lampard’s ex-teammate Petr Cech, who now works in the back room as Chelsea’s technical and performance adviser, took a look at his former club Rennes and saw someone there who could do the exact same. . On Cech’s recommendation, Chelsea signed Mendy for £ 22million.

Force to forceA club of Chelsea’s stature provided exactly the platform Mendy needed to develop his gifts even higher. In his opener at Stamford Bridge, Mendy showed how much he belongs to the bright lights of the Premier League – managing five shutouts in a row, starting with his Premiership debut, Chelsea’s 4-0 victory over Crystal Palace and ending with the Blues’ 3-0 victory over Rennes in the Champions League a few weeks later.

Mendy grew stronger and stronger during the 2020-21 season – further developing an assertive presence in driving the defense and an aerial prowess demonstrated by supreme confidence as he surged from his line to catch crosses. But it was Mendy’s blossoming gift of snatching seemingly inevitable goals that bolstered his reputation as one of the best goalkeepers today – as evidenced by his famous penalty save against Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero in May; not to mention his favorite save of the season, when he jumped into the grass to ward off a deadly low shot from Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema in the Champions League semi-finals the same month.

To top it off, Mendy played a leading role in Chelsea’s 1-0 Champions League final triumph over Man City. It was a Champions League season that earned him two places in the record books: Mendy became the first African goalkeeper to lift club football’s most prestigious trophy – while keeping 9 leaves, reaching a tie for the Champions League season record with Santiago Canizares in 2000-01 (then at Valencia) and Keylor Navas in 2015-16 (then at Real Madrid).

Mendy’s majestic performances at Chelsea make his supporters see him in action at the Africa Cup of Nations, especially in Senegal. But when Mendy’s talents began to blossom in the mid-2010s, it was unclear which national team he would play for. The 29-year-old was born in France to a Bissau-Guinean father and a Senegalese mother, which makes him eligible to play for all three countries. Guinea-Bissau called up Mendy for a few friendlies in 2016, and he agreed to play for them in tribute to his then terminally ill father.

Guinea-Bissau and Senegal wanted him to play for them at the 2017 African Cup of Nations. Mendy chose the latter, telling reporters that he had “always wanted” to play for Senegal, “the country my mother’s origin ”.

Senegal have every reason to be grateful for Mendy’s decision – especially because his strong defensive line is a major factor in making him a favorite to win the trophy, benefiting from the formidable presence of Naples star center-back Kalidou Koulibaly alongside the talented left-back PSG Abdou Diallo. With a talismanic presence up front in the form of Liverpool winger Sadio Mané, Senegal should be a formidable presence in Cameroon.

As they watch Mendy take his place in the net at this tournament, football fans around the world will also be thankful that Mendy chose the beautiful game – refusing to give up on his dream after the humble Cherbourg had it. cowardly.

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