DOHA - Senegal’s Edouard Mendy has found the World Goalkeeper of the Year crown a heavy one to wear over the last year, but a commanding performance against England on Sunday would go a long way to restoring his reputation.
The 30-year-old was given the FIFA award in January, on the back of helping Chelsea win the 2021 Champions League title and two impressive seasons in the Premier League, but his fortunes have since waned as he has struggled for consistency.
Mendy had temporarily lost his Chelsea place this season due to injury, although a howler against Leeds United at the start of the season raised questions about his form.
At the start of the World Cup he was handed part of the blame for two late goals conceded against the Netherlands that saw Senegal lose their opening group game.
But in their next Group A clash against Qatar there was a confidence-building save that helped Senegal hold onto their lead and go on to win 3-1, before the side edged Ecuador to book a place in the last 16.
Now, if he can keep at bay an England attack that might include club mates Raheem Sterling and Mason Mount, Mendy could yet finish the year on another high note, having started it with success in the Africa Cup of Nations.
His remains a remarkable rise to the top in a classic tale of perseverance. Just five years before his 20-million-pound move to Chelsea, he had been unemployed, forced to sign up for social benefits.
His contract with French fourth division club Cherbourg was not renewed, and his agent did not fulfil a promise to find him a new club.
"Being out of a job isn’t just a humiliation if you want to be a footballer," he recalled in a recent interview. "If you fail time and again, it leaves its mark. I was distraught."
He did not play for 12 months and was considering a job in a men’s clothing store when a former team mate called to say that Olympique de Marseille were looking for an additional goalkeeper. He signed an amateur contract at minimum wage and worked his way up to the reserve side.
Then Mendy’s fortunes changed in 2016. Stade Reims signed him as a back-up and seven minutes into the new season the first-choice goalkeeper was sent off, handing Mendy a Ligue 2 debut.
He was a regular by the time Reims won promotion two years on, and then he moved to Rennes, also debuting for Senegal.
Chelsea bought him to replace the flagging Kepa Arrizabalaga and Mendy played a key role in their Champions League success.
"In the end I decided my destiny myself. Never give up. I still remind myself every day of my unusual journey," he added.
(Editing by Hugh Lawson)