Who is Ferland Mendy? The €35m-rated ‘Mbappe of left-backs’ linked to Barcelona

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The young full-back is being eyed as a long-term replacement for Jordi Alba, having battled rejection from PSG and serious injury

If any club has expertise to call upon when it comes to the recruitment of left-backs, it is Barcelona.

Leading their hunt for a reinforcement on that flank of their defence for the summer is technical secretary Eric Abidal, a man who during his playing career excelled in that position, winning four La Liga titles and lifting the Champions League twice with the Camp Nou side, as well as reaching the 2006 World Cup final with France.

Although the search has doubtless taken Barcelona to all four corners of the globe, Abidal has not had to look far for the man who has emerged as the Catalans’ top target for the summer. Indeed, he has gone back to his roots in Lyon to pinpoint Ferland Mendy as Jordi Alba’s long-term successor for the Blaugrana.

A professional since 2015, when he broke through the ranks at Le Havre - the same club as the likes of Paul Pogba, Lassana Diarra and Riyad Mahrez were fostered - the 23-year-old has emerged as a key figure for Bruno Genesio’s side and stands poised to make the same move that Abidal did when he was 27, as he traded the Rhone giants for Spain.

On Tuesday, when Lyon host Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 encounter, Barca fans will get what may well be a first close-up glimpse of a player hotly tipped to be their's come August.

Mendy’s rise has been astronomical. At the age of 21, he had made just 12 league appearances, all in the second tier for Le Havre. Two-and-a-half years later, he finds himself a full international for France and ready to play a starring role in the knockout stages of Europe’s premier club competition.

“It’s true that everything’s happened very quickly since Le Havre, but I tell myself that it must go quicker!” he told France Football in January. “I have to continue with this dynamic.”

Mendy spent time in Paris Saint-Germain’s youth ranks but was released due to a form of arthritis in his hip, forcing him to miss a good deal of football when he was aged 15, while he also lost his father at a young age.

Ferland Mendy Lyon 2018-19

“I’ve not had an easy journey, it’s true, but I’ve never given up,” he added. “Now I’m here. This burning desire to succeed, it’s in my character. I’ve always been like that.”

Although a self-assured individual, sometimes branded as arrogant, Mendy is not someone who habitually speaks to the media. Instead, he expresses himself on the field, where he is a tireless piston down Lyon’s left flank.

Perhaps inevitably, given his name and role, he is compared to Manchester City’s Benjamin Mendy, who broke through at Le Havre in the two campaigns before his namesake arrived in Normandy.

He offers a similar willingness to attack and comparable quality in the final third, even if this aspect of his game is not quite as polished as that of his compatriot.

His marginal deficit in terms of his final ball – and it is marginal – is made up for with greater tactical awareness and solidarity at the other end of the park. And in some regards he is technically sounder, possessing a particularly capable right foot

“He’s the Kylian Mbappe of the left-back role,” experienced agent Yvan Le Mee told France Football. “Contrary to popular belief, the left-back position is the most requested after that of a striker because they’re very difficult to find.

“Mendy is good offensively and defensively, which is very rare. Balanced guys, who are exciting going forward and very strong at the back, are very rare. At his age, there’s no-one better.

Ferland Mendy GFX

“Apart from Andy Robertson, who won’t move from Liverpool, there’s no such talented player in that role available, especially as Lucas Hernandez has a different profile.”  

He has already proven he can cut it against the best, shining as Lyon defeated Pep Guardiola’s side at the Etihad Stadium in September and turning in a level of performance that arguably made him the best left-back in the group stage of the Champions League.

Tuesday promises a reunion with childhood friend Ousmane Dembele, who has already made the transition from Ligue 1 star to Barcelona regular.

“My two brothers and my sister lived in Evreux [where Dembele is from],” he explained. “I often spent my holidays there and it was then we met. We played together from time to time. I was 13 or 14 years old.”

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Both have come far from their days of kicking a ball around on the playground: this will be the biggest game of Mendy’s life and with it comes the challenge of stopping Lionel Messi. It is a task he is ready to treat with his customary laidback approach.

“He’s an electron, he can go anywhere, but I’m not going to do anything special,” he said when mulling over the prospect. “It’s always great to rub shoulders with players like that, but Messi is still a human.”

If Mendy can reduce to Argentine to a mere mortal status at Parc OL on Tuesday, he will surely have passed his final Barca audition, right under the nose of Abidal, a man who knows what it takes to make it to hearts of the Camp Nou fans.