Edouard Mendy: How Chelsea goalkeeper became Africa's number one

By Victoire EyoumBBC Sport Africa
Chelsea's Senegalese goalkeeper Edouard Mendy
Mendy registered as unemployed in France in 2014, but became a Champions League winner just seven years later

Wherever he goes in Africa, Senegal's Edouard Mendy - the continent's only Premier League goalkeeper - says he is hugely inspired by those he meets.

The Chelsea star, 29, has had an unforgettable year since joining in September 2020 on the insistence of the club's legendary former goalkeeper Petr Cech.

Now boasting Champions League and Uefa Super Cup medals, Mendy is starting to emulate the Czech's trophy-laden spell with the Blues after a string of largely-flawless performances.

"It's incredible because I've made people proud across the continent," he told BBC Sport Africa. "Everywhere in Africa, when I walk in the street, people stop to congratulate me.

"It's something exceptional because when you go to South Africa, Congo or Togo, say, you have all these people saying they're proud of you, they're backing you and telling you to continue what you're doing.

"That gives me enormous pleasure and makes me want to keep on winning."

The latter is something he's getting used to.

His debut Champions League season was remarkable - as he lifted the trophy, became the first goalkeeper to keep nine clean sheets (a joint-record) in his first year and was later named Uefa's Goalkeeper of 2020-21. external-link

Little surprise then that it's his highlight of the year.

"It's the most difficult competition in Europe," said the BBC African Sports Personality of the Year nominee.

"We were very good in the group stages, knock-out stages and the final. For my first year in the Champions League, it was a good debut."

His favourite save of 2021 came in the tournament too, when keeping out Real Madrid's Karim Benzema in the second leg of a semi-final Chelsea won 2-0 to book their place in May's final against Manchester City.

In Porto, Mendy became the first African goalkeeper to play a Champions League final, even if Zimbabwe's Bruce Grobbelaar had twice done so in the tournament's forerunner, the European Cup (winning in 1984, but losing in 1985).

"It's real pride for me and my family," he said.

Grobbelaar and Mendy form precisely half the total tally of African Premier League goalkeepers since its launch in 1992, with Nigeria's Carl Ikeme and Ghanaian Richard Kingson the only others.

"I know it's a responsibility and I've always said I'll do my best to make people proud and show there could be lots more African goalkeepers in the Premier League."

The man known as 'Edou' at Chelsea is certainly doing that - registering an impressive 36 clean sheets in his first 65 Blues games, and conceding just 42 goals.

Cech mate

BBC ASPOTY 2021: Edouard Mendy

Mendy owes his Premier League chance to Cech, whose own journey from Rennes to Stamford Bridge resulted in one Champions League win and four championships among other triumphs.

"Petr pushed hard to recruit me so when I arrived, I really wanted to be the best on the pitch - to show him he had made the best choice," said Mendy.

He started as he meant to go on, keeping clean sheets in six of his first seven games, with one of these a goalless draw away to Manchester United - a game he still savours.

"I think of the match against Manchester United - one of my first in the Premier League and at Old Trafford, which is well-known in football as being one of the most beautiful places to play."

Mendy says he was able to hit the ground running in England because he knew and "loved" the country already, having visited many times previously since his sister lived here.

Asked about the biggest changes he had to adapt to, Mendy points to the level of intensity in the English top flight and its packed Christmas schedule.

Rags to riches

While reflecting on his rise, Mendy - who helped Senegal reach the 2022 World Cup play-offs this year - credits his father and brother for enabling him to overcome serious setbacks.

"My dad told me to work hard if I wanted something, while my brother took me to a stadium to practice, so it's my family who've always supported me and pushed me to reach my goals."

Although he signed his first professional contract back in 2011 with third-tier side Cherbourg in France, where he grew up, he entered a footballing desert when that deal ended in 2014.

Misled by an agent, he spent a year with no club and thus no income, so forcing the then 22-year-old to register with France's unemployment agency as he seriously considered his future.

Edouard Mendy and Chelsea celebrate their 2021 Champions League success
Mendy enjoys Chelsea's celebrations after keeping a clean sheet against Man City in the Champions League final

But after a former team-mate recommended Mendy to a friend at Marseille, the Senegalese joined as a fourth-choice goalkeeper before his performances for the reserves found him drawing interest from elsewhere.

Mendy chose Ligue 2 side Reims, who he helped win promotion, and after a fine first season in the French top-flight prompted his 2019 move to Rennes, his continued good form found big-spending Chelsea chasing the once cash-strapped Mendy.

"My story can symbolise hope for a lot of people, because there are a lot of young players who can find themselves in my situation," he says.

"It's a mixture of faith, patience and work - lots of work. You need to believe in yourself, and always work harder than others."

Mendy's impressive feats saw him named Senegal's footballer of the year,external-link so ending a run of six straight crowns for Liverpool's Sadio Mane.

Last month, he was also recognised as one of the world's best - finishing runner-up in the Yashin Trophy, which is awarded to Europe's greatest goalkeeper by France Football during the Ballon d'Or gala.

"A few years ago, I was unemployed, without a club, and today I find myself named among the world's best goalkeepers. It shows me I'm on the right track, and in the right place to win titles and be the best in the world."