Edouard Mendy says he feels a responsibility to be a success at Chelsea in order to encourage other Premier League sides to invest in African goalkeepers.
The 28-year-old Senegal international is currently the only African ‘keeper in the English top flight following his £22m move to Stamford Bridge from Rennes last month.
Mendy has already established himself as Chelsea’s No 1 after conceding just one goal in his first three games, raising hopes that he could be the answer to the Blues’ goalkeeping issues.
But he is unsure why so few of his fellow African keepers have been given an opportunity in the Premier League, saying: “When you look at other leagues, there are more playing around Europe; in France, there are four or five at least. Perhaps it’s something that can be explained in different ways.
“There’s lots of African players in the Premier League and the Premier League is the best league in the world, so that’s a really positive thing. But there are only a few African goalkeepers.
“Do I feel a particular pressure about that? Not really. It’s a source of pride for me to be an African goalkeeper in the Premier League. It’s up to me to show, as an African goalkeeper, that I can really perform at this level and perhaps change people’s mentalities of these things.
“I just need to make sure that I keep working hard and doing my best in matches so that other goalkeepers can follow me into this league.”
‘I want to prove Cech right’
Chelsea goalkeeping great, Petr Cech, who is now an adviser for the club, was a key figure in identifying Mendy as the Blues’ new keeper.
Mendy and Cech – who has been named in Chelsea’s Premier League squad as emergency back-up – both played for Rennes before making the move to Stamford Bridge, and Mendy says he now wants to show Cech was right to place his faith in him.
“I had been aware that Petr Cech had been watching my matches for a number of years,” explained Mendy. “It’s always really pleasing to hear that Cech has been watching me and saying that he liked my profile and the way I was performing.
“After my season at Rennes, the offer came in from Chelsea and it’s a source of great pride for me to have joined this club.
“It’s true that Cech played a particularly important role in the transfer, so now it’s up to me to show that they were right to have brought me to the club.
‘Unemployment made me who I am’
Mendy establishing himself as Chelsea’s No 1 caps a remarkable rise for the 28-year-old, who was unemployed and contemplating his future in football just six years ago.
Mendy spent a year without a team due to a disagreement with his former agent and was forced to claim unemployment support while training with his former club’s reserve side just to stay fit.
He finally got his break when he was offered a trial by Marseille in 2015, but Mendy says those tough times have helped to make him the player he is today.
He said: “It was really very difficult, because on the one hand you had the anger of finding yourself without a club because of the agent who I was with, but there’s also the disappointment of not being able to play at the weekends, not being able to do what I love, not being able to compete.
“I immediately went back to the club I joined when I was young and I was training with the reserves there every morning. I would go to the gym or I would go with my brother to the pitch to practice shot-stopping.
“I had the unemployment support at that time, so I could dedicate myself totally to football. But 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, so I did start looking for other work.
“But then I had the opportunity to go to Marseille. I was given a trial, and when I went down there, I gave absolutely everything to get the opportunity to join that club. Fortunately for me, it worked, and when it did, it was like a complete release for me.
“A year is a very long time for a footballer, but fortunately, I could always count on my family. There were times when it was really difficult but my family could help me through that, to bounce back and get where I am today.
“I had many, many doubts during that time about whether I would carry on. But I would look back at those moments and say it’s thanks to them that I am where I am today and that my family is also able to benefit from football.”