LONDON: You could say Benjamin Mendy had faith in his decision to leave Monaco in 2017 after helping them to their first French championship win for 17 years.
Integral too in their march to the Champions League semifinals that same season, the left-back was coveted by Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea among others.
Admiration for Abu Dhabi-owned City came when Monaco beat them on away goals after a gripping last-16 tie that ended 6-6 on aggregate.
While Mendy wanted to work with Pep Guardiola, there was another reason why the Frenchman chose to follow Bernardo Silva, his Monaco teammate, to the Etihad Stadium after meeting chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak.
The 24-year-old told Arab News: “Khaldoon talked with me very well.
“He talked about the ambition of the club. But, also, the owner Sheikh Mansour (bin Zayed Al-Nahyan) is Muslim and that was one very big aspect for me to come to Manchester City because I am Muslim too. That was important.
“With the players and the manager, we are one big family and it’s perfect to work here. It’s a very big family, everyone close, everyone wanting the same.”
A decade on from Sheikh Mansour’s takeover, the club’s goal is for more honors and being the best in Europe.
Mendy is keen to help them fulfil their targets — and his own — following a remarkable, unforgettable first season.
The £52 million ($68 million) signing saw an impressive start curtailed this time a year ago when he suffered a cruciate ligament injury in a 5-0 win against Crystal Palace.
Those six games, six wins, 22 goals for and just one against, signaled the start of City’s rise to a record-breaking Premier League success.
Muslims in the Premier League
The Egyptian has acquired iconic status at Liverpool with his feats on the field. Off it, the fans have dedicated a song to the devout Muslim. To the tune of the song “Good Enough” by Dodgy, it features the lines: “If he’s good enough for you/He’s good enough for me/If he scores another few/Then I’ll be Muslim too.”
Introduced to Islam by his mother, Yeo, the Manchester United and France midfielder was pictured in Makkah after his club won the Europa League in 2017. Following the bomb attack in Manchester, he said: “To kill a human being ... it’s something crazy, so I don’t want to put religion on it. This is not Islam and everybody knows that.”
The German midfielder, 29, is the biggest name among the group of Muslims at Arsenal that includes Shkodran Mustafi, Granit Xhaka, Mohamed Elneny and Sead Kolasinac. He quit international football after being criticized for a meeting with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Ozil asked: “Is it because it is Turkey? Is it because I’m a Muslim?”
Just hours after scoring in Liverpool’s win at Leicester earlier this month, the frontman was pictured cleaning the floors and wudhu area of his local mosque. Mane, 26, grew up in the small Senegalese village of Bambali where his father was an Imam.
Was one of the seven Muslim players, alongside Mendy and Pogba, in the France squad that won this summer’s World Cup. Kante celebrated by going to Makkah to mark the start of Ramadan. His parents migrated to France from Mali in 1980 and is widely admired for his humble character.
Having shared in their Carabao Cup triumph in February, Mendy returned to action in April, just after a trip to Makkah, in time to lift the title with his teammates.
Then followed the big one, winning the World Cup with his national team despite playing just 40 minutes in Russia.
“Before, I dream of all this when I am young, to win the big trophies,” said Mendy. “But now, it is all true and I want to get more of this.
“It was amazing to win the World Cup, the best moment. We think about this all our life and for the next four years we are the kings of the world.
“The best inspiration for me is always Allah. But when I was young and watched football, I liked
Patrice Evra in my position, and then Dani Alves on the right side. But now I try to do my best to be the No. 1 myself.
“I feel very good, have a lot of energy and want to give everything for this team.
“What’s happened this last year is not a dream, it’s real and was not easy. We worked a lot with France to win the World Cup, and we worked a lot with City to win the Carabao Cup, Premier League and Community Shield.
“But we want more. City are a big team and we want a lot of titles.
“The biggest thing missing for me is the Champions League and inshallah we will go to take this cup.”
City, who beat Fulham 3-0 yesterday, will now focus on Europe and a Group F opener at home to Lyon on Wednesday.
Guardiola’s side had high hopes in last season’s Champions League, but were denied by English rivals Liverpool in the quarterfinals.
“I got to the semis with Monaco, it was so close, but this year I want to go to the final with City,” added Mendy.
“We want this cup. We believe we can win it. Last season we know what we didn’t do well (against Liverpool) and we learn from this. This year we will see.”
With that, Mendy shoots one of those beaming smiles that has become such a familiar sight.
Charismatic and cavalier, he has started this campaign in similar fashion to the last with four assists for City in as many games and another significant one last weekend for Olivier Giroud as France beat the Netherlands in the UEFA Nations League.
It prompted the tweet: “Need to score? Call Benjamin Mendy”.
Mendy’s madcap, often hilarious antics and behind-the-scenes videos have provided great entertainment for his million-plus social media followers. But he has pledged not to use his phone at the club’s training ground or in the dressing room after a warning from Guardiola, who said: “Hopefully we can convince him to forget a little bit the social media and improve a few things.”
But Mendy will not stop trying to lift spirits and lead as he added: “I try my best to lift the team-mates (with what I do) because it’s very important out there on the pitch that we think the same, that we support each other.
“When the teammates need help, it’s important we are there together.”
With the potential of players such as John Stones, Aymeric Laporte and Leroy Sane allied to the class of Kevin De Bruyne, City are aiming to be the dominant force under Guardiola in the coming years. The same relates to France with Raphael Varane, Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe forming the spine of Didier Deschamps’ side for the future.
“It’s the same, but two different managers with another vision of football,” Mendy said of the comparison. “But both teams are very good, the quality is there. Now I am with City and I focus on helping them to win. The start has been good and I hope to continue this way."