Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy has signed for Saudi Pro League side Al Ahli.
Talks are ongoing but Mendy is expected to join the big-name players moving to Saudi Arabia.
The Senegal international, 31, joined Chelsea in 2020 from Rennes, providing competition for Spanish international, Kepa Arrizabalaga.
He became first choice, winning the 2020-21 Champions League, and was named Uefa’s goalkeeper of the season and Best Fifa men’s keeper for 2021.
A move to Al Ahli would see Mendy join the growing ranks of elite players persuaded to join a Saudi Arabian club.
Chelsea team-mate N’Golo Kante recently agreed to sign for league champions Al-Ittihad and will be joined there by current Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema.
Meanwhile, Chelsea centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly and winger Hakim Ziyech are also reportedly the subject of interest from teams in the Saudi Pro League.
Faced with the first bottom-half finish in the Premier League since 1996, Chelsea will undergo massive changes in the summer to steady the ship and return to be competitive higher up the table next season.
Mauricio Pochettino’s era at Stamford Bridge is about to begin, and one of the first tasks on the new manager’s assignment list will be to trim down the Blues’ bloated squad.
Edouard Mendy seems to have no future in west London despite enjoying a rise to stardom during the early stage of his Premier League career.
The 31-year-old goalkeeper will not be part of Pochettino’s plans for Chelsea next season after his career at the Bridge took a downward trajectory.
Mendy, who moved to London from Rennes for an initial £22 million (17B FCFA) in 2020, wasted no time winning over the club’s fans with an immediate impact between the sticks.
Chelsea fans stood firmly behind Mendy, who replaced underperforming Kepa Arrizabalaga and helped the team win the UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup with Chelsea last year.
However, the keeper’s career has since been in a steady decline, with the Spaniard reclaiming his place in goal this term under four different managers, including caretaker boss Frank Lampard.
That’s particularly strange because Lampard preferred Mendy over the ex-Athletic Bilbao stopper during his first stint at Chelsea.
Mendy was given a rare chance to start in a 2-2 home draw against Nottingham Forest, although he’d wish it didn’t happen.
The same fanbase that used to worship him only a year ago has seemingly turned their backs on him, mockingly roaring whenever he was called into action.
These incidents served as a stark reminder of the considerable decline in Mendy’s standing at Stamford Bridge, highlighting the prospect of his imminent departure at the end of the season.
The rise of Edouard Mendy
Chelsea signed Rennes goalkeeper Edouard Mendy on a five-year deal in 2020.
The Senegal international, then 28, made 25 league appearances for the Ligue 1 side after joining from Reims in 2019.
“I’m so excited to be joining Chelsea,” Mendy said. “It’s a dream for me to be a part of this exciting squad.”
That season for Rennes, Mendy kept nine clean sheets in 24 Ligue 1 appearances, compared to Kepa’s eight cleans sheets in 33 Premier League appearances.
Mendy’s save percentage was 76.3% and he conceded a goal every 114 minutes. Kepa’s save percentage was 53.5%, conceding a goal every 63 minutes.However, Kepa’s passing accuracy was 79.7% compared to Mendy’s 70.1%.
During his first season at the club, the Senegalese star played an influential role in helping the team win the Champions League title, keeping a record-equalling nine clean sheets in the competition.
His impressive goalkeeping skills made him an outside candidate for the Ballon d’Or that year.
But even though he narrowly missed out on the 30-man shortlist, he still received individual recognition for his contribution with the Best FIFA Men’s Goalkeeper for 2021 award in January 2022.
Mendy was on the verge of giving up his dream. After 12 months without a club, he was close to falling through the cracks. His career was at a dead end, he had moved back into his parents’ flat in the Le Havre suburb of Caucriauville and he had no idea how he was going to support his partner, who was pregnant with their first child.
Nothing had gone right for Mendy after Cherbourg, a third-tier team in France, released him in the summer of 2014. The agent who was supposed to find him a new opportunity stopped taking his messages until it was too late to arrange a transfer and it was not long before the goalkeeper found himself training alone and fretting about how a 23-year-old free agent could possibly provide for a young family.
It was a horrible period for Mendy, who was forced to take unemployment benefit, and in 2015 he was close to accepting a job in a menswear shop offered by a friend. He could not have imagined that one day he would be about to start for Chelsea in a Champions League final against Manchester City.
Fate intervened through Dominique Bernatowicz, who was Marseille’s goalkeeping coach. “It was good timing,” Bernatowicz says. “We were looking for someone to serve as third- or fourth-choice keeper.
Bernatowicz soon saw that Mendy, who began at Le Havre’s academy, was blessed with talent, resilience and an insatiable desire to improve. “From the first training session I could see he was a cut above,” he says. “The next step was to throw him in with the professionals. They couldn’t understand why he didn’t have a club.
Mendy developed a strong relationship with Bernatowicz, who introduced him to an agent who could find him a Ligue 2 club. He joined Reims in 2016 and his chance arrived when the No 1 goalkeeper, Johann Carrasso, was sent off against Amiens on the opening day. Mendy impressed and became a regular the following campaign, helping Reims win promotion in 2018 by keeping 19 clean sheets.
People started to pay attention to Mendy, who was born to a Senegalese mother and a Bissau-Guinean father. In 2018 Senegal jumped at the chance to select him after realising he had not played in an official Fifa game when he made his debut for Guinea-Bissau in 2016. Mendy established himself as Senegal’s No 1 and he attracted interest from Porto and Christophe Lollichon, Chelsea’s goalkeeping coach.
Mendy joined Rennes in the summer of 2019 and played an important role in their qualifying for the Champions League that season. “His dedication made him unbelievable,” Olivier Sorin, Rennes’ goalkeeping coach, says. “Édou has a strong personality, but in a good way. He is very strict with himself and other players. He stayed only one year in Rennes but we felt like he had been here for 10 years.”
By the summer of 2020, Chelsea were ready to firm up their interest. They needed someone to challenge the struggling Kepa Arrizabalaga and decided to move for Mendy on the recommendation of Petr Cech, their technical and performance adviser. From then on, his rise was meteoric.
The fall from grace
The cheers have turned to jeers for Edouard Mendy at Chelsea. On more than one occasion during Chelsea’s 2-2 draw with Nottingham Forest, the fan base that used to revere the keeper roared mockingly instead when he caught or punched a cross from the opposition.
Chelsea made signing a new keeper in the summer window a priority several months ago, long before Pochettino was even being considered as a possible future manager. Among the names linked with the club already are Andre Onana, Emiliano Martinez, David Raya, Robert Sanchez, Mike Maignan and Gregor Kobel. The former Tottenham and Paris Saint-Germain coach will undoubtedly have a say on who actually comes in, but the club have had doubts about both of their main keepers for some time. However, out of the two of them, Mendy is expected to depart first.
The 31-year-old has been considering his future anyway. Being usurped by Kepa is just one of the reasons why. There has been frustration over how talks over a new contract, which began shortly after the Todd Boehly-Clearlake consortium bought the club 12 months ago, have progressed. Mendy wanted a salary in the region of what Kepa is earning (around £170,000 – 130 M FCFA a week), but did not come close to being offered that.
Over the last few days it has emerged he is going to split from his long-term agent and is signing up with LIAN Sports Group, who also represent Mendy’s Senegal team-mate Kalidou Koulibaly, instead.
It is worth highlighting that it was during Lampard’s spell as head coach of Chelsea between July 2019 and January 2021 that Mendy, who joined from Rennes in 2020, took Kepa’s spot as No 1. But when Lampard was appointed as caretaker he continued to pick Kepa rather than the man he trusted more during his first tenure.
To hear Chelsea supporters acknowledge Mendy sarcastically whenever he successfully collected a cross against Forrest was sad. As for many others in the squad, May 29th represented the two-year anniversary of the highlight of Mendy’s club career: winning the Champions League final against Manchester City.
The Senegal international kept nine clean sheets during the tournament that season, matching a Champions League record set by Santiago Canizares and Keylor Navas in 2000-01 and 2015-16 respectively.
He went on to win the UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup with Chelsea last term, plus the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal. There was individual recognition in January 2022 with The Best FIFA Men’s Goalkeeper for 2021 award.
A few months earlier, Chelsea supporters shared his disappointment at not making the 30-man shortlist for the Ballon d’Or and losing out to Gianluigi Donnarumma for the Yashin Trophy.
But it appears few will protest if he is sold now. High-profile errors in losses against West Ham, Real Madrid and Leeds United over the course of eight months (December 2021 to August 2022) eroded their faith in him. Pochettino’s era is about to begin, but Mendy will surely not be a part of it.
Lessons Onana can learn from
Despite Mendy’s excellent performances and trophies, 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 Onana, Alisson Becker, Ederson and Manuel Neuer. Even his rival for the number-one position at Chelsea, Kepa Arrizabalaga, has always been far better with the ball at his feet.
In a 3-1 loss at Stamford Bridge during their Champions League encounter, 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.
In the Champions League final against City, Inter goalkeeper Andre Onana gave a masterclass in controlling and distributing the ball while under pressure.
Onana may have ended the night on the losing side, but he was one of the standout players in the Champions League final and was a key factor in Inter making such a contest of a match that many observers including Elume Raymond predicted would be a one-sided affair.
Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola had spoken about Onana’s quality on a number of occasions before the final. In the pre-match press conference, he was asked who Inter’s most dangerous player was, and rather than point to a forward like Lautaro Martinez, Edin Dzeko or Romelu Lukaku, he offered a concise analysis of his side’s opponents. And he singled out Onana, who he described as “an exceptional goalkeeper to take the position to build-up. Really, really good.”
In an interview with CBS Sports, he again praised Onana for helping Inter play out from the back, contrasting the Serie A side’s style of play with United: “The goalkeeper, Onana, makes it really difficult to deploy a high press against. You cannot press the goalkeeper properly. They are masters at keeping the ball, right up to the attackers – the likes of Lautaro, Dzeko and Lukaku.
Onana lived up to Guardiola’s billing. In the opening minute of the final, he could be seen dribbling outside of his area, in front of his centre-backs. A few minutes later, when Bernardo Silva ran to press him in his area, he nonchalantly chipped the ball to Federico Dimarco.
Towards the end of the first half, Onana had five City players in front of him and only one real option to hit, but he slipped the ball straight into the path of Marcelo Brozovic, making the pass with the ease of a top-class holding midfielder.
Late in the game, when Inter were desperately chasing an equaliser, many goalkeepers would have resorted to quickly punting the ball forward
.But Onana remained calm and courageous, venturing way out of his area with the ball at his feet – closer to the halfway line than his area – and taking on Erling Haaland before finding Lukaku and starting a dangerous Inter attack.
Short passing under pressure is far from Onana’s only attribute, and in one moment in the second half he took out seven City players with a curling pass to start a counter-attack. Over the course of the 90 minutes, Onana put opposite number Ederson, once regarded as one of the best ball-playing goalkeepers in the world, in the shade with his passing and dribbling.
While European superpowers such as Bayern Munich and Real Madrid were crushed by City, Inter got mighty close to toppling Guardiola’s side, and a large part of that was the calmness and control Onana gave them in possession. But that is far from the only reason why United should be trying to sign the goalkeeper.
Onana, who first came to Europe to join Barcelona and then moved to Jong Ajax, the Dutch giants’ youth side, was a key factor in Ajax’s success under Ten Hag. He would frequently start attacks by finding playmaker Frenkie de Jong, and was on hand to offer his defenders a way out of trouble whenever they came under pressure.
Elume, sports analyst, acknowledges the interest Manchester United have in trying to bring André Onana to England. He beckons that, signing Onana could be the key to United taking that next step and unlocking their true potential under Ten Hag, allowing them to replicate Ajax’s free-flowing football which conquered Madrid and Juve, and earned them admirers around the world.
If Onana wants to succeed in England, trophies are not a guarantee for long term stay but consistency in your performances. Ask Edouard Mendy…
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