Bringing experience to India

CHENNAIYIN FC'S journeyman defender still has a lot to offer.-K. V. SRINIVASAN

Bernard Mendy’s role will be to help Indian footballers hoping to take the next step. He might not have the pace to run past defenders like he did against Brazilian Roberto Carlos while playing for France. But the Indians will be looking at the wealth of his experience, which, for sure, he has in plenty. By N. Sudarshan.

Search for Bernard Mendy on the internet and the first video to pop up will read ‘Mendy 100 metres in 10.49s’. It was sometime in the mid-2000s, when Mendy, playing for France and blessed with blistering pace, outran Brazilian great Roberto Carlos on the right flank before crossing the ball. Sylvain Wiltord fluffed the chance to score, yet, so astonishing was the run that subsequent replays focussed more on Mendy than on Wiltord.

Greater things seemed destined for him, one of which might have been joining the pantheon of great French defenders comprising Marcel Desailly, Lilian Thuram, Bixente Lizarazu and Laurent Blanc. But it did not pan out that way. Eight years at Paris Saint-Germain couldn’t do much to further his French career beyond four games and he ended up becoming the stereotypical journeyman, who would ply his trade in mid-sized clubs across continents.

This has now brought the 33-year-old to India for the inaugural Indian Super League (ISL), where at the international player draft he was the top pick and was snapped up by Chennaiyin FC. “I think I should have played more,” says Mendy of his national team career. “It was a disappointment. There was a managerial change when I came in. The new manager wanted to play a young team. I didn’t get my chance. But I was playing at a top level (for PSG) and maybe I should have played more.”

Mendy carries with him rich experience of having played in countries with different footballing styles. It is something he can share with young Indian footballers, who often find it difficult to adapt to different settings. He has been in France (PSG), England (Bolton Wanderers and Hull City) and Denmark (Odense Boldklub) and says the English game is the best.

“It is. You see a lot of good players in Manchester United, Manchester City. Now Paris (PSG) and Monaco are also good. But England is the best. You have to play for 90 minutes non-stop and there are so many goals. It’s harder (as well). In France it’s more tactical.”

Incidentally the English Premier League is the most popular competition in India and many players, at least in their formative years, idolise stars playing there. Mendy himself cherishes one such moment while playing for Hull when he turned in one of his best performances by scoring a goal and winning a penalty against his favourite club Manchester United.

“I like Man Utd. I am big fan,” he says. “It was good to score (against them). The coach initially put me on the bench. I was disappointed. But I decided to wait. We were 4-1 down and I came on. I scored and won a penalty. We still lost the game though. Yet it was good.”

When Mendy joined Hull in 2008 from Paris Saint-Germain, he said “The sporting project (of Hull) is ambitious and interesting”. Hull had just gained promotion to the top tier. For six months it was indeed excellent. Under Phil Brown the side lost only once in the opening games and was even temporarily joint-top. But it withered away towards the end and saved top-flight status only on the last day.

Mendy would hope the Indian project, which he also termed as challenging and interesting, doesn’t go the same way. His role will be to help Indian footballers hoping to take the next step. He might not have the pace to run past defenders like he did against Roberto Carlos. But the Indians will be looking at the wealth of his experience, which, for sure, he has in plenty.