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zero to hero There may never have been a rags to riches story to match that of Chelsea's Edouard Mendy

Magic Mendy went from life on benefits to Premier top stopper

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Chelsea's German head coach Thomas Tuchel (L) speaks with Chelsea's French-born Senegalese goalkeeper Edouard Mendy. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP)

Chelsea's German head coach Thomas Tuchel (L) speaks with Chelsea's French-born Senegalese goalkeeper Edouard Mendy. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP)

Chelsea's German head coach Thomas Tuchel (L) speaks with Chelsea's French-born Senegalese goalkeeper Edouard Mendy. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP)

THE glories of the last few months seemed an impossible dream for Edouard Mendy as he was contemplating an alternative career away from football when he was just 22.

Mendy has belatedly become an overnight football success story after sealing his move from Rennes to Chelsea in the summer of last year and quickly emerging as their first choice stopper in a season that would end with Champions League glory.

That triumph saw Mendy presented with the UEFA Goalkeeper of the Year award prior to his 50th appearances for the Blues in their ­Champions League game against Zenit last Wednesday.

Yet such plaudits seemed impossible to imagine when Mendy struggled to convince anyone who mattered that he was a goalkeeper destined to reach the top.

It was back in 2014 that Mendy found himself out of work and fearing his football career was over before it had even started.

Having to take unemployment benefit in France after being released by Cherbourg and not playing the game for a year, his partner fell pregnant while he was battling to find a club, leaving Mendy to contemplate alternative careers.

He ended up training with his first club, as Le Havre allowed him to stay in shape by working with their reserve side and he ­eventually found his way to ­Marseille, where he played for their B team and then joined French League 2 side Reims.

His big break came at Rennes and it was from there that Chelsea Sporting Director and the club's long-time former No. 1 Petr Cech made the bold move to bring him to Stamford Bridge.

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Petr Cech, pictured, played a crucial role in Edouard Mendy’s transfer to Chelsea (Martin Rickett/PA)

Petr Cech, pictured, played a crucial role in Edouard Mendy’s transfer to Chelsea (Martin Rickett/PA)

Petr Cech, pictured, played a crucial role in Edouard Mendy’s transfer to Chelsea (Martin Rickett/PA)

With Chelsea's £71million club-record signing Kepa Arrizabalaga bereft of confidence and struggling to justify his status as Chelsea's last line of defence, his replacement needed to be an instant success story and Cech backed Mendy to fill the void.

His performances over the last 12 months have justified that selection time and again, with Cech's talent spotting ­credentials given a rubber stamp by the man he staked his own reputation on.

"Before I came to Chelsea, I often spoke to my agent who told me about their interest in me," recalled Mendy, who will be a formidable last line of defence as Chelsea face Tottenham in a London derby this afternoon.

"I tried not to think about it because Chelsea are a pretty big deal and I'd come a really long way, but when the phone conversations started escalating, I realised that there was real interest from Chelsea and that I had to go for it.

"I told myself that Chelsea might sign another goalkeeper, but Petr called me. He said: 'Listen, only one goalkeeper is going to sign for the club, and it will be you. I only want you'.

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"When a keeper like Petr, with the career he had and being the Chelsea legend he is, tells you that, it calms you down a bit.

"If someone had said to me six years ago when I didn't have a club that I would end up here, I wouldn't have even bothered looking at or listening to them. I did genuinely have my doubts about whether I would carry on.

"But I look at it now and say that it's thanks to those moments that I am where I am today, and my family has also been able to benefit from where I've got to with my football," he explained.

"I had to take unemployment support at that time so I could dedicate myself totally to football … It was incredibly difficult and also my partner was expecting our first baby.

"So the unemployment support wasn't going to be enough for us, we needed something else, and so I did start looking for other work.

"Then I had the opportunity to go to Marseille and I was given a trial there. Fortunately for me it worked, and when it did it was like a complete relief for me.

"Because one year to go without football is an incredibly long time. I had many, many doubts during that time, but it was thanks to my family who helped so much in those moments to keep me strong."

With 16 clean sheets in the Premier League last season and a record-breaking nine shut-outs as he played a key role in Chelsea's Champions League triumph last May, he had a total of 25 clean sheets in 44 games last season.

Another four clean sheets at the start of this campaign have been complemented with some fine displays, with his athletic stops providing a platform for the Premier League win against Aston Villa earlier this month.

So it is no surprise to see Mendy revelling in a remarkable story that provides inspiration for those fearing the football mountain is too steep to climb.

"Am I one of the best goalkeepers in the world? I couldn't tell you," he said in an interview with UEFA last month.

"For me the most important thing is to be the best for my team," he said. "Being the best for my club means being the best every day and being the best I can on the pitch, helping my team to win trophies.

"I've progressed every year and I did last year too. It's something I want all the time."

You can be sure that the ­lucrative salary he is now ­commanding at Chelsea will be appreciated all the more given the unconventional path he has followed to reach the pinnacle of the game that was beyond his wildest dream just a few years ago.

There have been so many remarkable sporting fairy tales over the course of 2021 and Mendy deserves to be propelled to the very top of the elite list of over-achievers.

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