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'Mendy knows how to make himself heard' - Ballon d'Or snub won't stop Chelsea No.1 inspiring black goalkeepers

7:33 AM EST 11/27/21
Edouard Mendy Chelsea Juventus Champions League 2021-22
The Blues No.1 is excelling every week on the field for his club but his impact off the field is even more significant

It's awards season again in world football but Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy is likely to find himself overlooked.

Having already been sensationally snubbed for the Ballon d'Or shortlist, the Senegalese shot-stopper is also likely to be beaten to the Yashin award for the best goalkeeper of 2021 by Italy's Euro 2020 hero Gianluigi Donnarumma.

However, while the Azzurri ace has been in and out of Paris Saint-Germain's starting line-up, because of his battle with Keylor Navas for the No.1 jersey, Mendy has been a model of consistency all year long.

There was certainly no better goalkeeper in last season's Champions League, with Mendy racking up a record-equalling nine clean sheets as Chelsea pulled off a surprise tournament triumph.

And he's been just as commanding this season. As it stands, no goalkeeper to have played at least two Premier League games this season has a better save percentage than that of Mendy (88.57).

To put that in context, Alisson's is 77.27%, while Ederson has stopped precisely two thirds (66.67%) of the shots he's faced in 2021-22.

Given the quality of the players he's presently outperforming, it's remarkable to think that Mendy was unemployed just seven years ago.

He was also still virtually unknown to English football fans when he joined Chelsea from Rennes for just £22 million ($30m) in the summer of 2020, and yet is now widely regarded as one of the best players in the world in his position.

Chelsea's technical and performance advisor Petr Cech had seen something in Mendy that others hadn't.

The former Blues and Czech Republic goalkeeper was convinced that Mendy could still take his game to a whole other level even though he had already turned 28 by the time he arrived at Stamford Bridge.

Perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised that it took a goalkeeper-turned-director like Cech to fully appreciate Mendy's superstar potential.

Depressingly, black and African goalkeepers often have to fight harder than most to convince people of their quality.

Indeed, it is worth noting that Mendy is the first black goalkeeper to win the Champions League since AC Milan legend Dida in 2007, and the first African goalkeeper since Liverpool legend Bruce Grobbelaar in 1985 to lift the European Cup.

The reality is that talented black individuals like Mendy often find themselves overlooked by coaches with unconscious bias.

Some black goalkeepers have admitted that they, too, have been affected by this blinkered view, which has made them feel inferior to their white counterparts, whom they are conditioned to believe have better technique and make fewer errors.

Mendy, though, has always had the utmost faith in himself, and those that came before him.

In his first press conference after signing for Chelsea, he named Tony Sylva as his idol.

The net result is that Mendy, just like Andre Onana, is now a source of inspiration of young black kids across Africa and beyond.

"It’s a great pride and I’m so happy that African goalkeepers have reached this level," Cameroon icon Jacques Songo'o told GOAL. "We have the respect now and we have shown that with work we can reach these places.

"When you have the chance, you have to take it, and when Mendy joined Chelsea it wasn’t necessarily as first-choice.

"There was already [Kepa], who had played for the Spanish national team. But Mendy came, worked hard, put pressure on his rival, and when he got his chance, he took it. It doesn’t surprise me at all."

Those sentiments are echoed by another great of African football, two-time Africa Cup of Nations winner Joseph-Antoine Bell.

"Mendy has made a lot of progress, particularly in his work with the ball," the Cameroonian told GOAL.

"The fact that he’s improved in this area has also brought him more serenity. He has faith in himself, he’s more serene, so he contributes more for his team."

Just like Songo'o and Bell before him, Mendy has now become a role model for current goalkeepers of colour, such as Leyton Orient's Lawrence Vigouroux.

Of course, racism remains a massive problem in football, just as it is in society as a whole, and Mendy was disheartened to see his image recently used on news stories about Manchester City left-back Benjamin Mendy, who has been charged with six counts of rape.

"Sad to see that in 2021, in France as in England, for some blacks have neither first names nor distinct faces. These photo 'mistakes' sound like anecdotal, they are highly symbolic on the contrary," he wrote in frustration on Instagram.

He has shown he isn't willing to stay quiet at times of injustice or avoid complex and emotionally charged issues. To those who know him, it is no surprise.

"He's a very calm person on the outside. With his family, he is calm. But in football, he's someone else," Jordan Siebatcheu, his former Reims and Rennes team-mate, told GOAL.

"He has a leadership characteristic. With his big voice, he knows how to make himself heard!"

Even without the Ballon d'Or recognition that his inspirational performances so richly deserve.

Additional reporting by Ed Dove