If there is a footballer who will sing and carry the TotalEnergies Africa Cup of Nations high, it is the Senegal midfielder, Nampalys Mendy, who took advantage of the 33rd edition of the tournament to raise his profile with his English team Leicester City and globally.
Suffering in Leicester, Mendy was transformed during the 2021 AFCON where he established himself as an essential cog in the Senegal team that was crowned African champions.
And yet, nothing could more represent the rebirth of the French-born midfielder who joined the Senegal team in March 2021 in an AFCON qualifier against Congo in Brazzaville.
Arriving in Bafoussam (Cameroon) where Senegal was playing its group stage, he only had 31 minutes of playing time which he got during a match against Brighton, at the end of October, in the 4th round of the English FA Cup.
In the English Premier League, the Senegalese midfielder was not even on the match sheets.
Despite his lack of playing time at club level, Teranga Lions coach Aliou Cisse put him in his list of selected players for the AFCON played in Cameroon last month.
Mendy was selected because of the midfield difficulties of his national team and he became an important member of the Teranga Lions by helping them overcome their early problems at the start of the competition before properly revealing his qualities during the knock-out stages after a convincing entry against Malawi in the final game of the group.
Positioned as a cover in front of the defence, Mendy has become the new strongman of the Senegal midfield, relegating PSG star Idrissa Gana Gueye to other duties in the team.
Against Equatorial Guinea, he extinguished the Nzalang Nacional attack and became the Lions’ first launching pad for the solid 3-1 victory.
Against the Stallions of Burkina Faso, in the semi-final (3-1) Mendy also had a major impact that took the Teranga Lions to the final which they won on penalties against Egypt.
A rebirth far from England but did not go unnoticed by his coach at Leicester City, Brendan Rodgers.
On Mendy’s return from the tournament in Cameroon, the tactician was forced to put the Senegalese midfielder back in the saddle after having spent weeks on the bench. He came into action in place of the Nigerian Wilfred Ndidi in the 1-0 victory against Leeds on 5 March for his first match in the English Premier League in the 2021-2022 season.
Against Brentford (2-1) and against Arsenal (0-2), he was the key midfield of the Foxes and played his part well.
On Friday against the Pharaohs, he put up the same performance and assisted in what could have allowed Sadio Mané to score in the first half but the striker’s effort went over the crossbar to the great relief of fans at the International Stadium in Cairo.
For the return leg of the play-offs scheduled for Tuesday at the Abdoulaye-Wade stadium in Diamniadio, Aliou Cissé should count on his pocket midfielder to unlock the system that Carlos Queiroz will put in place to maintain his advantage from Friday’s 1-0 win during the first-leg of the World Cup play-off.
As for Mendy, who has managed to become a footballer again after being ignored by his coach for a long time, the future belongs to him and he is certain that he will not be short of opportunities.
With a contract that runs until 2023, the Senegal star midfielder has the advantage of staying with his club and making a global impact if he still shines under the lights of the Diamniadio Stadium during the return leg where Senegal must overturn the 1-0 defeat to Egypt to help them qualify for Qatar 2022.