Edouard Mendy, not Benjamin, deserves more respect and football can be racist. Right! I’ve got your attention. Now, let us dissect those two points and see how they are linked.
The Ballon D’or awards ceremony happened this past week. As is usual with these awards there was huge controversy regarding the winners and this year it was Lionel Messi beating Robert Lewandowski to the Ballon D’or award. Many football fans were livid, some were even disgusted that Lewandowski had been robbed for the second year in a row.
However, there was another controversy – the Trophee Yachine. This is the trophy that is awarded to the best goalkeeper, and this year it went to Gianluigi Donnarumma. He was given the award ahead of Chelsea’s goalkeeper Edouard Mendy. Now, it was expected that Donnarumma would win as he was a Ballon D’or nominee and Mendy was not.
The truth is Mendy deserved that award and he also deserved a Ballon D’or nomination. He has the statistics, the trophies, the big game performances to be at least recognised as one of the best players in the world. Do not get me wrong, Donnarumma is excellent, just ask England fans how good he is, but Mendy has been better.
Mendy’s situation is not uncommon. He is a victim of larger issues that have plagued African goalkeepers and black footballers in general. So, him losing out to Donnarumma was not surprising.
You see if Mendy was English, the media would be all over him. If he was English, Fifa would not fail to put his national team jersey on their nominations picture like they did for the other goalkeepers. If Mendy was English, he would not have his name constantly confused with another player.
Mendy is not English, he is Senegalese. As a result, he suffered from the stereotyping of not just African but black goalkeepers. You see the goalkeeper is a key position. This position requires you to always concentrate, to read the game, to make good decisions, to be a leader but mainly to not make silly mistakes. These are traits that the people who make the decisions at football clubs, do not think that black and especially African goalkeepers possess. Due to this stereotype, no matter how good a keeper like Mendy is and how much he continues to defy these stereotypes, he will most likely never get the credit he deserves.
This is an issue that African goalkeepers have often spoken about. Ajax and Cameroon goalkeeper Andre Onana has been quoted in the past as saying that black goalkeepers have to work twice as hard as white goalkeepers. In an interview with BBC Sport, he said, “We don’t have a lot of black goalkeepers at the top and people already have in their mind that black goalkeepers are not confident, or they make too many mistakes.” He continued to say, “It’s something we have to change. It’s not easy for us to arrive at that level especially when you are black but for me it really doesn’t matter — black or white, in the end, I am a goalkeeper.”
A lot of the stereotypes of black footballers have been seen in the way they are described, and they are used. Black footballers are often lauded for their physical attributes, not their football IQ or their mental fortitude. Therefore, black footballers are often not trusted in key positions that require “football intelligence.”
There was an article in 2016 written by Joe Lo in Vice Sports UK that said, “Managers in the modern game just do not trust black players in certain roles.” The article continues to say “the tempo-controlling midfielder, the most important position in the game relative to how the team plays, is the role in which black players are trusted the least.”
The article also mentions how black players were not trusted as goalkeepers and at centre-back, but they were trusted as wingers. A manager was quoted as saying black defenders have “tunnel vision” and ‘you always need a white one to make sure the other one doesn’t go wandering off.
These are the stereotypes that black footballers face from the people who make the decisions regarding their careers. So, when Edouard Mendy was competing for the prize of the best goalkeeper in the world, he was not just competing against the other goalkeepers, he was competing against years of racial biases and stereotypes.
For this to change, the people in football and the people who vote for these awards need a complete overhaul of their mindset. If that does not happen, players like Edouard, not Benjamin, Mendy will continue to face these same issues for years to come.