Senegal was one of the two African teams that progressed from the group phase at Qatar 2022, but was eliminated without a shadow of a doubt by England, as the “Three Lions”, the team which finished second last year at the UEFA EURO 2020, secured a clear 3:0 win to progress to the quarter-finals.
Sure, Senegal might have missed Sadio Mane, but they still delivered an excellent performance, with an eye for improvement in the next years. And that improvement will also be on the shoulders of Edouard Mendy, one of their star players, Chelsea’s goalkeeper, who was a huge part of their success in the last years.
But Mendy’s ascension to greatness was definitely not easy and it could have been easily thwarted, a player with huge potential stopping his career early, as it has been the case so many times in the ruthless football world.
Mendy was born in Normandy, France, from parents of African origins. His father hailed from Guinea-Bissau, while his mother was from Senegal, hence his decision to represent the country in international football. He fell in love with football from an early age and was never like the other kids who wanted to score goals. No, Edouard wanted to become a goalkeeper, fascinated by Gianluigi Buffon’s saves.
At 16 years old, he went from club to club in France, but eventually settled for Cherbourg, a team in the third French league, which was relegated to the fourth league. Soon, Mendy found himself at a crossroads: he went to England to trial for several lower division teams, but everybody said no.
Left without work, with his dreams almost thwarted, Mendy had to think hard to see what he can do to make his breakthrough. He called for a furlough and waited and waited for the right opportunity to come.
Mendy was 23 years old, training alone, and was close to accepting a job in a clothes shop when a friend presented him with the opportunity. A quick trial in Marseille helped him to get a job at first. Then, he joined Reims, a modest second league club in France. When the first choice goalkeeper got sent off in the first match of the season, Mendy jumped in at the chance and never looked back.
“I did genuinely have my doubts about whether I would carry on. But I look at it now and say that it’s thanks to those moments that I am where I am today, and my family,” said Mendy, after his transfer to Chelsea materialized.
After the stint at Reims, Mendy was quickly snatched up by Rennes, a team known for relying on younger players, with plenty of potentials. The €4 million move attracted some interest from Senegal, who did not even know that Mendy has Senegalese roots.
He had already played for Guinea-Bissau in a friendly match, but he was still eligible to be called for the “Lions of Teranga”. In 2018, Mendy made his debut and never looked back from that moment on.
“I had to take unemployment support at that time so I could dedicate myself totally to football. It was incredibly difficult and also my partner was expecting our first baby. And so the unemployment support wasn’t going to be enough for us, we needed something else, and so I did start looking for other work.”
“But then I had the opportunity to go to Marseille and I was given a trial there. Fortunately for me it worked, and when it did it was like a complete relief for me. Because one year to go without football is an incredibly long time. I had many, many doubts during that time. But it was thanks to my family who helped so much in those moments to keep me strong,” added Mendy.
His performances at Rennes were so good, former Rennes goalkeeper Petr Cech, then a director of football at Chelsea, called. For a €30 million fee, Mendy was going to move to London, only five years after being jobless and leaving on a furlough.
“If someone had said to me six years ago when I didn’t have a club that I would end up here, I wouldn’t have even bothered looking at or listening to them. I did genuinely have my doubts about whether I would carry on. But I look at it now and say that it’s thanks to those moments that I am where I am today, and my family has also been able to benefit from where I’ve got to with my football,” said Senegal’s goalkeeper.
He was crucial to Senegal’s success, despite the elimination in the Round of 16 at Qatar 2022, and being only 30 years old means that the African side will rely on him also in the future.
While life was never easy for Mendy, he still represented his country with pride and a huge success. And that is another lesson to be learnt at Qatar 2022.