Nampalys Mendy: How the Leicester City midfielder has gone from forgotten man to first choice
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Just six months ago, you wouldn’t have blamed Leicester midfielder Nampalys Mendy for thinking that his future lied away from the King Power Stadium. The Frenchman, often referred to as ‘Papy’, was coming towards the end of a season-long loan back at former club Nice. He had played in just nine games for the Foxes.
The 26-year-old arrived at the King Power Stadium in July 2016 for a fee of roughly £10-12m and was given the almost impossible task of replacing the outgoing N’golo Kante. Mendy had impressed in Ligue 1 the previous season, playing every game, and often wearing the captain’s armband for OGC Nice. His performances during the 2015/16 campaign had earned him comparisons with his French counterpart and the man whose boots he was trying to fill. That swiftly prompted former Foxes manager Claudio Ranieri to make a move for him.
While both Mendy and Kante have a similar stature on the pitch [both stand at 5ft 6in in height], to expect the incoming Mendy to bring the same to the team that Kante did was unfair on the French U21 international.
As well as the pressure of replacing an irreplaceable player, Mendy’s 2016/17 season was plagued by injuries. The midfielder made his competitive debut in the 0-0 draw with Arsenal in August 2016 and his performance was providing some optimism for the onlooking Leicester fans. However, in the 53rd minute, he was forced from the field of with an ankle injury. That injury would keep the Frenchman out of action until December.
Mendy played just seven more games in all competitions before a relapse of the injury would put an end to his season.
In the time between Mendy picking up the injury and his return to full fitness, Leicester had undergone a managerial change, with Ranieri making way for assistant manager Craig Shakespeare.
Seemingly unable to impress his new manager during pre-season, Mendy was shipped out on loan to former club Nice on deadline day of 2017. As the midfielder was battling for his place back in the middle of the park at The Allianz Riviera, events back in England gave him a glimmer of hope in resurrecting his Leicester career.
Claude Puel was the manager of Nice when Mendy joined the French club in 2016 and was the manager who gave him the captain’s armband. The French manager joined the Foxes in October 2017, after the dismissal of Shakespeare a week or so earlier. Mendy has admitted in a recent interview with the Leicester Mercury that he saw the appointment as a lifeline;
“I didn’t speak to him, but when I saw he had joined I was so happy because for me it was a big opportunity, a big chance,” said the 26-year-old. “I knew him and he knew me. It was better for me to know the coach.”
However, despite his relationship with Puel, upon Mendy’s return in the summer, there was still uncertainty over the player’s future at the King Power. Despite not being in the squad for Leicester’s opening game against Manchester United, Mendy was included in the starting 11 for the Foxes’ home game against Wolves, to the surprise of many. The Frenchman played the full 90 minutes of that game and has not looked back since.
Mendy has gone onto play every minute of Premier League football for Leicester. His strength on the ball [despite his modest size], work rate and ability to find a teammate with a pass, has ensured that he is winning the battle for a starting place alongside fellow midfielder Wilfred Ndidi. The fact that he is keeping Portuguese international Adrien Silva and Europa League winner Vicente Iborra out of the team proves that Mendy has taken his chance with both hands.
The midfielder now looks like he will be at the King Power for a lot longer than most people expected just a few months ago...