With a record-equalling nine clean sheets and a winner’s medal, Édouard Mendy’s debut Champions League season could not have had a more fairy-tale ending. The Senegal international matched the competition best mark set by Santiago Cañizares and Keylor Navas as he provided the foundation for Chelsea’s ascent to the summit of European football for the second time in the club’s history.
It has been a bumpy journey from the backwaters of amateur football in France to Stamford Bridge, but the 29-year-old has certainly made up for lost time. No surprise for a man who is now used to setting — not shipping — goals.
In the half in which I was warming up, I saw all the fans there wearing Chelsea shirts, so it made it look like a blue wall. When you’re in conditions like those, that is reflected in the match straight away; there were a lot of positives, especially with the fans singing your name. That gave us a lift right away. For me, the two best bits were, of course, when Kai [Havertz] scored the goal. That was a huge relief, just before half-time. And I could also feel a wall of support pushing me on because the fans were behind me. It was an incredible feeling. When the referee blew the final whistle, I saw everyone was so happy, crying happy tears. I saw the staff and the substitutes run onto the pitch from the bench and we knew we’d done something big.
Yes, I’m very proud of having played a part in setting that record. The record is great and shows the team was solid throughout the tournament, be it in the group stage or the knockouts. We were extremely solid and consistent. Everybody showed up to do their job, including me, so it’s really satisfying to have finished that tournament with nine clean sheets and only four goals conceded by the team over the whole competition.
The idea of a group is something the coach has directly established. It is something that got stronger with good results. Every time we gave great performances, they were great collective performances. That shows you we have only succeeded as a team, and that forges closer bonds between us. On the pitch, we play for our brothers because we are a family, and we do things as a family.
I’ve experienced all the divisions in France, from Level 6 to Ligue 1. In between, there was a period where I was unemployed for a year aged 22, so that was an important time in my life. Having never been professional or at a club that late, it’s difficult to then become a professional footballer, but I worked during that year, I worked twice as hard as others.
I had luck on my side and that thankfully paid off. I had the chance to sign with Marseille. And I just went up from there, starting with my signing for Reims in Ligue 2, winning a championship title, and climbing to Ligue 1. I had a season in Ligue 1 at Reims, and then I went to Rennes, who played in the Europa League. It was more ambitious there than at Reims.
After that season was cut short by COVID, Chelsea became interested in me, and despite having qualified for the Champions League with Rennes, it was something I couldn’t refuse.