Le50 2016: Benjamin Mendy – Olympique de Marseille
Marseille’s imposing left-back is one of the most experienced players in Le50 this year, as the 21-year-old is in his fifth professional season; not for him the gentle easing in with a couple of substitute appearances in the league or token starts in less challenging cup games – at just 17 he made over 30 starts for Le Havre in 2011/12, and the same the following season, when they finished sixth. This understandably caught the attention of several clubs, but Marseille won his signature in summer 2013, for €4m.
Mendy made the step up with alacrity, with 30 appearances including two in the unsuccessful Champions League campaign where OM lost every game. He scored his first professional goals, against Saint-Etienne in the league and Toulouse in the cup, got three assists, and went on to solidify his starting place in the following season with 34 starts and six assists. He was on course to build on that further when a ligament injury kept him out for a dozen games at the start of 2016, and shortly after he missed another two with a tendon injury.
Throughout, Mendy has been working his way steadily through the national team set-up: when in the HAC youth team, his 18 games for the U17s culminated in European and World Cup appearances in summer 2011, where France reached the quarter-finals, and in summer 2013, he played a key role for the U19s as they reached the final of the European championships. He has now made the step up to the U21s, including in Euro qualifying; given Didier Deschamps’ apparent reluctance to bring in new blood in the fullback positions, his chances of a senior call-up may be some way off, but are legitimate.
Refereeing in France does mean that defenders expect to pick up half-a-dozen bookings a season, and Mendy has a reasonable record here – the one concern, though, is that he maybe does not factor in impending suspensions (two last season, one this) and is less comfortable coming on as substitute, shown in his sending off after one minute against Toulouse. His foul was foolish – dragging down Akpa Akpro – rather than violent, but still wasn’t ideal. Fortunately – for Mendy and OM – Toulouse went on to get two men sent off in three minutes and Michy scored a last-minute equaliser, but against a stronger team, that would have put his colleagues in a tricky situation.
One element he could improve is his attacking contribution, although arguably this is more a systemic issue for Marseille than his shortcoming, as he enjoys getting forward and getting a cross in. This season, after scoring the opener in the 4-1 hammering of Bastia in game 5, he set up Michy for the fourth, but despite another four assists in Europa and cup games, has not made a concrete contribution in the league since. Getting the ball into the box – as he does – is obviously useful; if the OM forward line frequently requires a number of touches to get the ball over the line, this number may not do Mendy justice, but if he could improve it, it would be all to the good. He also likes a shot from distance, is comfortable on the ball and makes a strong defensive contribution, but his tackling can be erratic – perhaps in a more settled and less error-prone backline there would be fewer situations where a last-ditch tackle is needed from a fullback, but at least he is getting valuable practice.
After three seasons at OM and given their current situation, there will doubtless be a lot of interest in Benjamin Mendy in the summer. Usually at this point we say that it would be beneficial for a young player to stay where they, but in Mendy’s case, this might well be the perfect time to move on.