The suffering of people in Chennai motivated us to win ISL: Mendy

Bernard Mendy is a household name now having played a key role in Chennaiyin FC’s triumph in the second edition of the Indian Super League. After his ISL assignment, the versatile French defender decided to venture in the traditional I-League, signing a contract with Kolkata giant East Bengal.

I know East Bengal–Mohun Bagan is a big rivalry that has been there for many years. My aim will be to give my best and make East Bengal the I-League champions, says Mendy.   -  K. V. Srinivasan

Bernard Mendy is a household name now having played a key role in Chennaiyin FC’s triumph in the second edition of the Indian Super League. After his ISL assignment, the versatile French defender decided to venture in the traditional I-League, signing a contract with Kolkata giant East Bengal. Mendy arrives in Kolkata on Saturday to strengthen East Bengal, which is looking to regain the national crown after more than a decade. Mendy lent his views ahead of his new assignment in an e-mail interview to Sportstar. Edited excerpts:

Question: How do you describe your journey from the top leagues in Europe - Ligue 1 and the EPL - to a little known football destination like India?

Answer: It has been a memorable journey. It was an honour playing for a club like PSG that I grew up supporting. I also went on to play for the French national team. England was a great experience of course and then in 2014 I got a chance to come to India. I didn’t know much about India or Indian football before coming but I must say it was a wonderful experience. There is lot of potential in Indian footballers and the sport in the country can only continue to grow.

How satisfying have been the two seasons in ISL?

I have had two great seasons with Chennaiyin FC. First season we finished top of the league stage but narrowly missed out on the final and the second season was a complete roller coaster. We were on the verge of elimination at one point but the strength of Chennaiyin FC was the togetherness on and off the pitch. We never gave up and then seeing and hearing about the sufferings of our people in Chennai (during the floods) gave us extra motivation to go on and win the tournament.

The ISL is positioned as a tournament that is expected to bring Indian football to the top level in the world. Do you share this concept and how long do you think will it take to happen?

Only time will tell but the start has been positive and it can only get bigger and better in the coming years.

Chennaiyin FC's triumph signifies a notable shift from traditional powerhouses such as Kolkata and Goa. How do you think this happened as Chennaiyin beat both Kolkata and Goa in the semis and the final to win the title?

Yes we had positive results in difficult venues like Kolkata and Goa but you know even players of those two teams will admit that how tough it is for them to play at our Marina Arena. The support in Chennai and from Chennaiyin is second to none. There is great passion and love for football and footballers in Chennai.

Will this success of Chennaiyin FC cause a turnaround in the popularity of football in the region?

Yes I am sure there will be more fans and greater interest in Chennaiyin FC and football in Chennai. I miss Chennai and their people now that the ISL season has ended.

Can we say the success of Chennaiyin was more because of the magic of Marco Materazzi?

Marco was a great player and now he is proving that he can be a great coach. He is someone who understands players and that makes a big difference.

From a young and professional set-up in ISL you are joining a traditional club system that is trying to step out of an amateurish format. How do you think you will adjust to the new system and its demands?

I have heard about East Bengal and the I-League from the Indian players of Chennaiyin. It will be a different experience but I will be going back to a country where I have enjoyed playing and also living because of the love and respect I get.

How much do you know about Kolkata football and the significance of playing with East Bengal?

Not much but I want to know and find out more. I know East Bengal–Mohun Bagan is a big rivalry that has been there for many years. My aim will be to give my best and make East Bengal the I-League champions.

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