The story of possibly the most unlikely word class keeper
Words by Joe Roberts
Edouard Mendy is touted as the best goalkeeper in the world, at least according to FIFA and UEFA as Mendy picked up both the Champions League Goalkeeper of the Season and the FIFA Best Goalkeeper awards for last season.
To many fans, Mendy was an unknown element between the sticks, until his signing for Chelsea in September 2020 for a reported £22 Million. Little was expected of the former Rennes man, he was just expected to be better than the out of favour Kepa Arrizabalaga – that he was.
Mendy’s meteoric ascension to becoming a Champions League and AFCON champion, among numerous personal accolades, has its seeds set in very humble and difficult beginnings. The town of Montivilliers in northern France has the pleasure of being Mendy’s birthplace in 1992.
From the age of 13, Mendy bounced between various barely-professional teams in northern France, struggling to get his foot, or rather gloves, in the doorway of regular playtime.
He was ultimately released by Cherbourg in 2014, without a club or a job. “I did genuinely have my doubts about whether I would carry on,”, Mendy later noted.
From here Mendy sought unemployment benefits and questioned whether he had a future in football and began seeking jobs outside of football. “It was back to unemployment. I held on and I believed in myself. My route took a little longer but it allowed me to put a lot of things into perspective, notably in general life, and to come back down to earth”. Seemingly another of the countless ‘I could have gone pro’ stories.
A strike of luck for Mendy saw him recommended by former teammate Ted Lavie as a fourth choice/reserve keeper for Ligue 1 Marseilles.
“I was just coming out of unemployment”, Mendy notes, “I was hesitating between two 4th division clubs. But Marseille called me and I quickly jumped at that”.
While he made no appearances for Marseille’s first team, his quality did not go unnoticed as he later moved down a division to play for Reims in Ligue 2 for regular first-team football and shine in the French second division.
His talent there led him to a move back to Frances’ top division playing for Stade Rennais, where his nine clean sheets helped his team finish third and qualify for the champions league for the first time in the clubs’ history.
It was at Rennes where Mendy’s quality became apparent to the footballing world; his six-foot six stature embodies his physical dominance in the box. This coupled with his exceptional shot-stopping, reflexes, vocal command of his penalty box and ability to claim crosses put him on the radar of the elite European clubs – Chelsea came sniffing, and the rest is just the start of his elite football history.
“I didn’t always want to be a goalkeeper, but I didn’t have much of a future further up the pitch. I was asked to go in goal, and everything happened naturally after that”.
Edouard Mendy is a grafter, a hard worker and a man who took opportunities and made the most out of them through his dedication and commitment.
“I worked during that [COVID] year, I worked twice as hard as the others”. Mendy shows that it is never too late to make it to the top if you work hard enough for it.
On his personal progression, Mendy notes that “it’s something I want all the time”; only the best after achieving the very highest achievements in football still want more.