On the 25th of September 2020, Chelsea confirmed the signing of a then 28-year-old goalkeeper Edouard Mendy from Ligue 1 outfit Rennes. Edouard Mendy was in no way a glitterati signing as he was only a goalkeeper with one season of top-flight experience who was joining the Blues for a transfer fee reported to be worth £22 million on a £52k-per-week wages, though on high recommendation by former Rennes and Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech who was at the time Chelsea’s sporting director.
It was the biggest move of his career and the latest chapter of an inspiring story of a footballer’s rise to the top starring Edouard Mendy as the protagonist. Despite being a relatively unknown goalkeeper, the data made available created very little or no room for doubt in the Senegalese’s capabilities and seemingly, Chelsea had unearthed one of the best goalkeeping talents in the world.
Mendy’s save percentage in the league the previous season at Rennes stood at a staggering 78.4% as against Kepa’s 54.5% at Chelsea and the Senegal international had only conceded 19 league goals at a rate of 0.79 per 90, far lower than the 47 league goals conceded by Kepa at the rate of 1.42 per 90. Hence, it was as clear as broad daylight how much of an upgrade Mendy was going to be.
He was signed to solve Chelsea’s goalkeeping woes on the back of many unconvincing performances by Spanish goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga and the last straw was drawn on the camel’s back in a 2-0 defeat at home to Liverpool after which backup veteran goalkeeper Willy Caballero had to step up for Chelsea’s next two games against Barnsley and West Bromwich Albion.
Mendy would then go on to make his Chelsea debut in an EFL Cup Round of 16 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur on the 29th of September before making his first Premier League appearance in a 4-0 win over Crystal Palace just three days later. It was the first of many Chelsea clean sheets for the Senegalese goalkeeper as he would then go on to establish himself as Chelsea’s undisputed number one for the rest of the 2020/21 season.
Standing at a towering height of 6’4″, Edouard Mendy visibly offered something different from what Kepa Arrizabalaga offered. His size meant he was a huge and commanding presence in goal and his vocal and leadership skills also showed that he was a top-class organiser at the back. Also worth mentioning is the fact that crosses flung into Chelsea’s 18-yard box seldom escaped the grateful and magnetic gloves of Mendy. That 18-yard box was a territory marked and dominated by Edouard Mendy and so effectively did he master that art of territorial dominance which contributed to making him one of the finest goalkeepers in the world at the time.
The 2020/21 and 2021/22 seasons were undouubtedly the best period of Edouard Mendy’s career. The goalkeeper who had to work his way through the fringes of the lower tiers of French football would go on to keep 16 Premier League clean sheets in his debut season while also helping Chelsea win the UEFA Champions League with a record nine UCL clean sheets out of a possible 12 in that same season. The success story continued in the following season as Mendy helped Chelsea to another European trophy in the super cup before playing a key role in the club winning its first-ever FIFA Club World Cup while also starring in two domestic cup finals.
Amidst all the successes at the club level, Mendy alongside the likes of Sadio Mane, Kalidou Koulibaly, Idrissa Gueye and Ismaila Sarr had formed a core of highly rated Senegalese footballers who would go on to help their nation win its first-ever African Cup of Nations in February 2022 while also booking their ticket for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, where they would reach the Round of 16 before losing to England.
It was a stellar period in Edouard Mendy’s career as he was even able to edge Euros 2021 winner and Player of the Tournament Gianluigi Donnaruma to the award for FIFA’s Best Goalkeeper Of The Year after he had previously lost to the Italian in the Yashin Trophy, an award presented by France Football that has seen former Ballon d’Or winners vote for the best-performing goalkeeper since its inception in 2019. Donnarumma took home 594 votes, Mendy registered 404, whilst Jan Oblak came third with 155.
Despite the goalkeeper’s excellent form and performances, there has however always been a manifest weakness in his game. Mendy’s sweeping and ball-playing abilities have always had a question mark about them, his composure on the ball when building up from the back almost always portrayed panic with his distribution nothing compared to world-class ball-playing goalkeepers like Alisson Becker, Ederson and Thibaut Courtois. Even his rival for the number-one position at Chelsea, Kepa Arrizabalaga, has always been far better with the ball at his feet.
He was nevertheless able to keep his position as number one despite Kepa’s improved form in the second half of last season starting from when the Senegalese international had gone to represent his country at the African Cup of Nations in January/February 2022. But a dismal performance in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League quarter-final against Real Madrid proved a turning point, as Mendy effectively began to lose the confidence of the fans and opinions began to form about whether or not he’s good enough to remain as Chelsea’s number one.
In a 3-1 loss at Stamford Bridge, Real Madrid and Karim Benzema’s third goal of the night was literally a gift from Edouard Mendy and it once again served as a timely reminder of how unfit Chelsea’s goalkeeper might be for the modern game, and this time the reminder came with big consequences as Chelsea were eventually eliminated from the Champions League after failing to get a favourable aggregate scoreline in the second leg.
Despite the dip in form, Thomas Tuchel still remained adamant about dropping Edouard Mendy and he would go on to finish the 2021/22 season as Chelsea’s number one, but at the start of this season, the Senegalese’s dwindling form continued. Chelsea fans and their manager began to lose confidence in the veteran shot-stopper, with his fall from grace eventually prompting a change at the guard at the goalkeeper position.
A very characteristic mistake that led to Brenden Aaronson scoring the opener in a 3-0 defeat away at Leeds in August did cast further aspersions on Mendy’s credibility and it only looked as though it was a matter of time before the 31-year-old lost his place in Chelsea’s starting 11 and that time finally came as the goalkeeper had to miss out on a 1-0 defeat to Dinamo Zagreb due to an injury and the resultant effect of that game was the shock dismissal of German coach, Thomas Tuchel.
English manager Graham Potter succeeded Thomas Tuchel and Kepa Arrizabalaga was able to keep his place in goal in Potter’s first game in charge, a UCL group game that ended 1-1 at home to Salzburg and despite being fit for Potter’s third game in charge against AC Milan, Mendy had to watch from the bench as Kepa kept a clean sheet in a resounding 3-0 win at Stamford Bridge and that was the beginning of Mendy’s time on the fringes and on the Chelsea bench until the opportunity to impress the new manager came after Kepa got injured in a 4-1 defeat away to Brighton.
Mendy would then go on to start Chelsea’s next four games in all competitions, none of which produced a clean sheet before heading to Qatar to represent Senegal at the 2022 FIFA World Cup. When club football resumed in late December, a knock and a shoulder injury meant Mendy had to be sidelined for a period of time. Hence, a starting spot in Chelsea’s goal was guaranteed for Kepa who eventually made the number one spot his own as he became one of Chelsea’s best players despite a horrendous run of results which saw the Blues drop outside the top half of the English Premier League table.
Of course, Kepa’s return to the starting 11 in place of Edouard Mendy brought more assurance to the backline as he was clearly a reborn and more confident goalkeeper. With just six clean sheets and 21 goals conceded in 21 league games, Kepa has still been able to stand out, helping Chelsea to maintain its position amongst the top three defences in the league, a defence that has conceded a total of 41 Premier League goals in total so far with Kepa boasting of an impressive save percentage of 75.76%, one of the best save ratios in the league, saving 77 out of the 103 shots he’s faced this season while Mendy has saved 25 out of the 41shots he’s faced this season with a 61% save percentage.
Edouard Mendy finally got a chance to impress on May 13 as he was preferred to Kepa to start in goal against Nottingham Forest, a very shocking decision by Frank Lampard which ultimately yielded no results. The Senegalese goalkeeper didn’t cover himself in glory when he misjudged a Renan Lodi cross which eventually came off the head of Taiwo Awoniyi into the back of the net to give Nottingham Forest the first-half lead at Stamford Bridge.
It became very obvious that Mendy was not only conceding goals that highlighted his weaknesses, he was also conceding goals from situations that were normally routine for a goalkeeper of his standard and it now seems like the 31-year-old is heading for one of the biggest falls from grace in football. The following match, he returned to the bench, with Kepa starting but nevertheless conceding a goal to Julian Alvarez as freshly crowned Premier League champions Manchester City prevailed 1-0 at the Etihad.
From all indications, Edouard Mendy is very likely to leave Chelsea this summer as his contract situation remains unresolved and the Blues are already in the market for an upgrade despite the fact that their Champions League-winning goalkeeper still has two years left on his current contract.
Will Mendy be able to turn around his situation at Chelsea? Very unlikely given the state of things with the club presently not in a position of patience and tolerance with players who are ordinarily meant to be already established in the team. It is an era of rebuilding for Chelsea football club and this might just be the best opportunity to move on players like Edouard Mendy whose weaknesses are regularly made manifest in the modern game.
Mauricio Pochettino looks set to replace Lampard at the helm this summer, and it seems all but guaranteed that he will look to move on and find an upgrade between the sticks. With Andre Onana, Emiliano Martinez and Mike Maignan all linked with a move to Stamford Bridge, it remains to be seen who Chelsea end up signing, but one thing is becoming increasingly clear: neither Kepa Arrizabalaga (28) nor Edouard Mendy (31) are the long-term answer at the goalkeeper position.
By: Moses Adikwu / @Moe_Adikwu
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Rob Newell – CameraSport