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From unemployment to potential Chelsea No.1: The rise of Edouard Mendy

3:00 AM EDT 9/25/20
Edouard Mendy Senegal
The goalkeeper is described as intelligent and principled by those who know him and has fought his way up the ranks to earn a shot at Stamford Bridge

In the space of six years, Edouard Mendy has gone from being unemployed to potentially becoming Chelsea's No.1 goalkeeper. At the heart of the story is an optimist, with a world-class sporting mentality.

Chelsea announced on Thursday that the 28-year-old goalkeeper had officially become their player, moving in a £22 million ($29m) deal from Ligue 1 club Rennes.

Coach Frank Lampard signed Mendy to compete with club-record signing Kepa Arrizabalaga, who has badly struggled for form, and on the recommendation of transfer advisor and club legend Petr Cech. Like Cech, Mendy comes from Rennes with something to prove.

Normandy-born Mendy enjoyed a comfortable, middle-class upbringing under a Senegalese mother and a father hailing from Guinea-Bissau and studied business.

The football obsessive idolised Gianluigi Buffon and Manuel Neuer, while Ronaldo Nazario was his favourite outfield player. A school trip to Brighton as an 11-year-old saw him pick up a Brighton shirt, the first kit he ever owned.

His football career began in the academy system at local club Le Havre, regarded as one of the top goalkeeping schools in France.

He was to be released by his club however after falling behind Zacharie Boucher in the pecking order.

After five years at local amateur club CS Municipaux Le Havre, he won the Normandy Cup, attracting interest from professional club AS Cherbourg.

Starting again from the third tier in France, Cherbourg president Gerard Gohel gave Mendy his opportunity.

"He arrived at the age of 19 and stayed with us for three years," Gohel told  Goal . "We were in National (the French third-division). The first year he played but there was competition as we already had a goalkeeper.

“He played the next two seasons. Everyone had noticed his qualities, his positive attitude with his team-mates and the club. We saw his kindness.

“When we were relegated to CFA (D4), he told us he wanted to play at a better level. But he did not get [the chance].

“One day, he called me and said: ‘I have a proposal at FC Fleury 91 in the league above’. But I answered him: ‘Why are you going to sign there? Honestly, it is not a challenge for you’. He said to me: ‘So, I'm coming back to Cherbourg’.

"Finally, after several weeks, he told me that he had a proposal to become the fourth goalkeeper of Olympique de Marseille.

“I said: ‘Sign with Marseille. It's a great opportunity’. He signed in Marseille and a season later, the president of Reims, a friend (Jean-Pierre Caillot), called me.

"He said to me: ‘Gerard; you had Edouard Mendy. I'm looking for a No.2. What do you think?’

“I replied: ‘Take him, he will be your future No.1.’

“I was right. Edouard became No.1. Then, [sporting director] Olivier Letang signed him for Rennes last year. This is the story. Chelsea have paid a lot of money to sign him. It's exceptional, but he deserves it.

“When you see the reaction of the Rennes players and coaches, you understand that his behaviour was fantastic.

“It was sad to see this boy, with his qualities, facing a period of unemployment after leaving Cherbourg."

Mendy left Cherbourg at 22, thinking that he was ready for the next step through a former agent. A move to an unnamed English League One club was lined up with other offers said to be in the pipeline. They all fell through and Mendy was left unemployed.

In an interview with Goal, Mendy revealed that he considered giving up.

"When one remains unemployed for a year, even with the best will in the world, doubt sets in," Mendy said. "We think a lot; we try to weigh the pros and cons, to say to ourselves what is the best solution.

"I was going to be the father of a family and real questions arose [about my future in the game]. This is where my entourage played a major role. If I had been badly surrounded, I would surely have stopped football. I cannot thank my family enough, my cousins. All the people who didn’t give up on me."

The early career problems didn’t stop there however. Signed by Marseille, Mendy was sitting way down the pecking order and he only managed to play with the B team.

A high-profile error with the reserves brought doubts about him again but Mendy's response to his tough time at the French giants is inspiring.

"I don't understand why people say it didn't work," he added. "I went from unemployment to Marseille. It's still very positive.

“When I got there, the season had already started. [Goalkeeper] Flo Escales, the club's big hope, was with me, so in terms of playing time he was the priority.

"But in my mind, I wanted to go step by step, having a good feeling in training first.

“Out of 30 matches, I played about 10. I found playing time and thanks to that several Ligue 2 clubs contacted me.

"For me, the year was very beneficial. I was able to participate in the final of the Coupe de France, and at the end of the year, the club offered me a two-year contract. The year couldn't be better."

His ascent truly began four years ago, when he arrived at Stade de Reims in Ligue 2. Mendy came of age, having been heavily scouted and depended upon as a No. 1.

Ultimately, Rennes would come calling and he would help them qualify for the Champions League before accepting his massive move to west London.

Fellow goalkeeper Johny Placide, who came through at the same academy, believes his time is now.

"When he signed for Reims, I left, but we both came through at Le Harve,” Placide said to Goal.

“We played against him with Marseille quite a lot and he is from Le Harve.

"He is a very good goalkeeper; he is tall, fast and he is good for Chelsea. Now, he is one of the best three or four goalkeepers in France.

“He had a great season, he is a good professional, a simple guy and I think he is better than Kepa [Arrizabalaga] who is already at Chelsea. We will see but he is a very good choice for Chelsea."

Mendy arrives into the Premier League realising his dream of becoming an elite goalkeeper.

He will battle with Kepa and Willy Caballero to impress Lampard and to start in goal for the English giants. In those sessions at Cobham, the trio of stoppers will compete but also need to be a tight-knit team.

That dogged determination, positivity and will to win can only rub off well on the Spain international who has lost his confidence but Mendy is intending to jump up the pecking order once again.

With additional reporting from Benjamin Quarez and Ed Dove.