CHENNAI: When was the last time a player who turned out for the likes of PSG and France appeared in the I-League? Rohan Ricketts’ ill-fated Dempo stint comes to mind. Bit-part player as he was, he had still turned up for Arsenal and Tottenham. Former Pune FC star Riga Mushtapha too was a decent name, having played for Bolton Wanderers in the EPL.
But when it comes solely to resumes, no I-League signing can arguably rival that of Bernard Mendy’s.
Agreed he is no Alessandro Del Piero or Robert Pires, but Mendy has more than just a decent track record. Turning up for PSG in Ligue 1, Hull City and Bolton in the EPL and for France against Brazil is no mean achievement. After establishing himself as one of Chennaiyin FC’s most popular players, Mendy is set to turn up in Kolkata for East Bengal, where his marauding style should go down well with passionate fans.
East Bengal was not the only I-League club — Mendy had offers from Goa — to approach him, but the lure of Red and Gold was too much for the Frenchman.
“I’ve had a great experience in India. I love the people because they love and respect me a lot, especially the fans of Chennaiyin. I had other offers too but liked the way East Bengal approached me,” Mendy told Express.
It is impossible for a footballer to have an extended stint in India without learning of the rivalry between the two Kolkata giants and Mendy revealed it was something that had enchanted him immediately.
“Even in the first season, Indian players told me about East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, their rivalry and the I-League. I’m looking forward to the experience, as it’s a tough league and not easy win. I’m told East Bengal haven’t won it for many years. So every team will be tough. I’ll try to help them win.”
Making the jump from ISL to I-League, in terms of the quality of football, should not be too complicated. But getting used to modest facilities that I-League clubs provide compared to the luxury players receive in ISL may be an issue for some.
Mendy, though, is not worried. “I’m not worried. When I first came, I didn’t know much about Indian football but after two seasons, I’ve seen a lot of potential in Indians and Indian football. I hope I can keep continuing in its development.”
After Mendy touches down at Kolkata airport on Saturday morning, he will walk straight into one of the most heated I-League seasons for a while, dominated more by talks of clubs shutting down and a potential unification. The unification question, in particular, is one that the Frenchman will have to encounter. “I don’t know, maybe I can answer that after playing in the I-League.”