On May 13, Edouard Mendy gave us an appointment on the Zoom application. During the thirty minutes of interview, the Chelsea goalkeeper never let go of his broad smile. The former Rennais can be satisfied, he is only one game away from winning the supreme title, the Champions League, from his first participation. The story would then be a fairy tale. This season, his career has taken on another dimension. She goes beyond anything he could have imagined.
Unemployed six years ago, the Senegalese international goalkeeper is living a dream come true for his first experience abroad, in one of the biggest clubs in the world. With 24 clean sheets including 8 in Europe, Mendy has made a name for himself that goes beyond the borders of England. This Saturday (9 p.m.), against Manchester City, he will have the firm intention of making his loved ones proud. Those who have always supported him in times of hardship. And there have been many. The 29-year-old doorman tells us his incredible story.
What images come to mind when you knock out Real Madrid on May 5?
EDWARD MENDY. I am elsewhere, disconnected. I’m like, “Wow, Champions League final. ” It’s a crazy thing ! I realize that not long ago I was in Ligue 2, that from my third year at high level I reached the C1 final. It’s not nothing. Thiago Silva, for example, waited until he was 35 to play his first Champions League final. After the game, I broadcast the joy of the locker room on Instagram. It is not in my habits, but, there, I had no choice. There is so much joy, people who have suffered with me. It was important to share with them.
Six years ago, you trained with the Le Havre reserve, without a club, unemployed. Could you have stopped everything?
It was not far that I actually stopped. My year of unemployment has been tiring for me and my loved ones. I had to feed my home. It was complicated, but I know I’m lucky. My family has always supported me, be it my parents, my big brother, my sister, my two little brothers and, of course, my partner. She was always there while we were expecting our first child. She wasn’t showing me anything. She was so convinced that I was going to be successful that I had to believe it.
It is a beautiful gift that you are giving them today …
It will be a nice gift if I lift the trophy. For a footballer, the Champions League is the pinnacle. I just have that in mind.
Talking about a sacred potential in C1 is unexpected when you retrace your career.
Unexpected, that’s the word. Two years ago, I was playing in Reims. Clubs were interested in me, but none that would have allowed me to project myself on a Champions League. Everything was very fast. I am fortunate to have an entourage that allows me to keep my feet on the ground. I know that I have come a long way, I must not take myself for someone else.
How important was the birth of your first child to your resolve not to let go?
In a time like this, a lot of feelings are intertwined. Sometimes you want to stop, sometimes you want to fight, but at the end of the day you want to stop everything because a year is extremely long. I was going to be a father and I said to myself: What do you want to leave as an image for your son? That of a man who has given up? No ! What I wanted was to tell him that I held on, that I worked to get what I wanted. In difficult times, I wish he could hold on to my story. At the end of my year of unemployment, he was my greatest strength.
How did you feel when you had to report to Pôle emploi?
I was freaking out and when I got there it was horrible… I took knockouts for twenty minutes. It was really hot! There, you meet people like you but, in fact, that’s real life, you’re in the system. The counselor said there was nothing he could do. I had the impression of not being in my place, of being subjected to events. It really hurt me.
While waiting for a club to call you, you worked in a ready-to-wear store.
It was something good. I did a baccalaureate in commerce, I was comfortable with customer relations. I had a salary, a position, but it wasn’t what I wanted. What I wanted was to play soccer. I was torn between what to do and what to do. Then Marseille called me. Fortunately, because I wouldn’t have waited another week.
Without OM, was it over?
Probably. It all started with Ted Lavie, who was in Cherbourg with me. When I explained to him that I might be going to stop, he replied that I was sick and that the OM reserve goalkeeper coach, Dominique Bernatowicz at the time, would be interested in my profile. I had been lied to so much that I didn’t believe them at first. I was afraid to find myself once again on the floor, to be at the lowest mentally. Finally, Dominique calls me. It was my last chance this try. I gave my life in the field.
Already at the time, you dreamed of England …
I’ve been watching the Premier League from a young age. I was a Marseille fan and, when Drogba signed for Chelsea, I followed his exploits. I watched the Frenchies Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires. It all made me want. In addition, when I was 12, I went to Brighton for a week. I experienced the English thing on a match, I saw the families go to the stadium, the fervor. This idea germinated in my head until I was told it’s good, you’re going to go and put it upside down. I wasn’t very hot anymore but, when a club like Chelsea calls you, you can’t say no!
When did you realize your transfer to Chelsea was possible?
I really believe in the month of June. There, Christophe Lollichon makes me understand that they will advance on a goalkeeper and that it will be me. I was at the dawn of a Champions League season with Rennes, we had just finished 3rd, we had a hell of a team which, without my departure or that of Raphinha, was oiled to play at the top of the table. With Rennes, it was clear. I would stay for sure, unless there was a top club. It happened, it was difficult, but President (Nicolas) Holveck and Flo Maurice (Editor’s note: technical director) were very classy.
Was it complicated to adapt to a star dressing room like Chelsea’s?
I shouldn’t have any complexes. My integration was facilitated by my performance (Editor’s note: six entry clean sheets). I was able to count on francophones. And, above all, I wanted to show Christophe and Petr (Editor’s note: Cech, technical and performance advisor) that they were not mistaken. They were playing big too, because last year, when you said Edouard Mendy in England, nobody knew me.
The City-Chelsea final highlights the success of players like you, Kanté or Mahrez who have not had a classic course. Do you carry the message that anything is possible when you give yourself the means?
The course of Riyadh (Mahrez) was not easy. He went looking for things including the Africa Cup against our team (Editor’s note: in the CAN 2019 final, Algeria beat Senegal 1-0). His story, that of Kanté or mine goes beyond football. Behind that, there is something motivating. When I see the course of N’Golo (Kanté), me, it motivates me. Same with Riyadh. These are courses that give you the will to fight in football or in everyday life.