Ballon d’Or 2021 - Edouard Mendy is one of the best goalkeepers in the world and his snub is baffling beyond belief
After another imperious performance by Chelsea stopper Edouard Mendy, Pete Sharland ponders the question of his Ballon d'Or snub and why there are still so many doubters about Mendy despite his consistent excellent performances. Goalkeepers as a whole are chronically underrated by the sport but Mendy seems more so than most.
BRENTFORD, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 16: Edouard Mendy of Chelsea celebrates after the Premier League match between Brentford and Chelsea at Brentford Community Stadium on October 16, 2021 in Brentford, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
“Someone explain why he’s not nominated for the Ballon d’Or?”
That was a tweet sent by Chelsea centre-back Antonio Rudiger after the Blues’ hard-fought 1-0 win over Brentford on Saturday evening.
Rudiger, who had to miss the game through injury, was probably watching through his fingers by the end of the game as Brentford, roared on by an incredible crowd, peppered the Chelsea goal relentlessly throughout the final half an hour.
Putting aside football’s complete disregard of goalkeepers compared to the never-ending fetishization of attacking players, it still seems absurd to not have Mendy on the list. Without picking on him, having Gerard Moreno - who played a key part in Villarreal’s remarkable Europa League success - on the list over Mendy, a Champions League winner, seems a bit odd.
In his first season with Chelsea in a new country without his family - who only were able to join him in England permanently this season - Mendy was solid as a rock in a team that looked down and out when Frank Lampard was fired in January. The Blues would then bounce back and win the Champions League, and he would keep a clean sheet against the consensus "best team in the world", Manchester City, in the final.
Despite the chaos Chelsea had the second-best defence in the Premier League last season. Since Tuchel took over seven months ago they are the only side - barring newly-promoted teams - to concede fewer than 10 goals both home and away. The total of 16 they’ve let in during the 27 games since the German’s arrival (and coincidentally more or less the period on which the Ballon d’Or is judged on) is the fewest in the league.
Yes players like Rudiger, Cesar Azpilicueta and Thiago Silva (who was also missing for the Brentford match) are a huge part of that record, but Mendy is central to it. The Senegal international not only has the highest save percentage in the league (96%, the next highest is 83%) this season he also has the highest expected goals prevented at 2.3.
Gianluigi Donnarumma was excellent in the final of the European Championship - particularly in the penalty shoot-out - but he was shaky last season in Italy with AC Milan and has been far from assured in Paris for PSG. Perhaps international success has swayed the selection process in the Italian’s favour. However, it’s obvious that Donnarumma - the only goalkeeper on the shortlist - has not been the best stopper in the world in 2021.
BRENTFORD, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 16: Edouard Mendy of Chelsea celebrates with Ben Chilwell during the Premier League match between Brentford and Chelsea at Brentford Community Stadium on October 16, 2021 in Brentford, England. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Imag
Image credit: Getty Images
To be clear: it’s not necessarily a given that the best has been Mendy. Thibaut Courtois and Jan Oblak have been excellent for Real and Atletico Madrid, as has a resurgent Manuel Neuer at Bayern Munich. All three can be rightly peeved that they weren’t nominated, but Mendy has performed brilliantly, his numbers are excellent and he won Europe’s premier competition, the Champions League. So, why was he snubbed?
The uncomfortable truth is that coupled with an inherent bias against goalkeepers, there remains a bias - perhaps unconscious but racial - against Black goalkeepers. For years Black goalkeepers were compared unfavourably against white counterparts often irrespective of performance, with lazy generalisations such as “eccentric, error-prone and bad with feet” commonplace in the 90s and 00s. Further, the RunRepeat study on Racial Bias in Football Commentary painted a bleak picture of the current state of biases within the game.
The above has led to an inability to acknowledge Mendy for what he is: one of the best in the world. He more than stacks up by every metric - including the eye-test.
Perhaps there is also the hurried manner in the way in which he arrived at Chelsea. A late signing to act as competition for Kepa Arrizabalaga (the definition of an erratic goalkeeper right there for what it’s worth) and one who received limited hype given he was 28.
The nonsense idea that he is merely on a hot run of form does not stand up to scrutiny: the clean sheet against Brentford was his 20th in 38 Premier League games (i.e. a whole season). Only three keepers in league history (Petr Cech, Pepe Reina and Alisson) took fewer appearances to get to 20 clean sheets. Mendy is no fluke or beneficiary of a hot streak, he is the real deal.
Over the international break Mendy’s Senegal team-mates Sadio Mane and Kalidou Koulibaly, of Liverpool and Napoli respectively, weighed in with their thoughts on their colleague’s snub.
“It’s a real shame that Edou isn’t one of them,” said Koulibaly. “He is the first African goalkeeper to win the Champions League.”
Koulibaly added. “We have to do [double the work] of some people to be well judged.”
BRENTFORD, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 16: Edouard Mendy of Chelsea makes a save during the Premier League match between Brentford and Chelsea at Brentford Community Stadium on October 16, 2021 in Brentford, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
Image credit: Getty Images
Mane called the decision “unacceptable”, adding that: “I do not understand.”
For his part Mendy accepted the snub with his usual good grace saying: “Honestly I am already very proud to represent my country and be among the 10 best goalkeepers in the world.
“In just one year [at Chelsea], it's a very good thing. I'm not satisfied with that, I have a lot of ambitions but it's already a good step.
"There will always be debates, whether it's about me or someone else. It is down to the freedom of the votes of the (Ballon d’Or) journalists and they must be respected.”
While it is an admirable stance from Mendy, it is difficult to agree with his sentiment. There is no need for diplomacy: it’s an aberration - nothing else - that he was not one of the 30 players on this shortlist. Mendy is not perfect but he has done pretty much everything that has been asked of him in 2021 and in the biggest moments for both club and country he has consistently stepped up.
If you’re one of those saying Mendy “had to do more” to justify a nomination, maybe ask yourself why? Maybe go back and watch some of the games and then look at some of the other names nominated and wonder what more he could do. Mendy doesn’t care, he’ll keep doing his job on the pitch, he certainly doesn’t come across as someone who cares about individual accolades. After all this was a guy who was unemployed and basically out of football at 22, to be where he is today is remarkable in of itself. But pundits and media have a duty to pay tribute to those who warrant it, so take a bow Edouard Mendy, you deserve it.