After Jeddah derby heroics, Mendy proving leader on and off pitch for Al Ahli

Al Ahli goalkeeper Edouard Mendy registered his 13th clean sheet of the season in the crucial 1-0 win against Jeddah rivals Al Ittihad at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium on Monday night.

The Senegalese international made a number of vital, and spectacular, second-half saves to help his side preserve their 1-0 lead and move five points clear in the race for third spot in the Roshn Saudi League.

However, Mendy’s role and importance to Al Ahli was underscored not by anything he produced on the pitch, but by a vision captured and shared across social media afterwards showing the 32-year-old addressing the playing group after the game.

As the players were still coming down from the celebrations after a pulsating encounter in front of 50,633 fans, Mendy could be seen delivering an impassioned speech to the rest of those sporting white.

“We said before the game it’s a special game, so we need to be special,” Mendy said, gesturing around the room.

“Everybody here: the coach, staff and players. Everybody needs to be special. But now, guys, this is the DNA. We have to be special for the rest of the season, guys.

“It’s not because it’s the derby… this is our standard. We keep this standard until the last game of the season, and we keep this third place.”

It was brief - only 29 seconds - but it highlighted Mendy’s role as a leader within the team, off the pitch as much as on it. The rousing reception his impromptu talk received showed how admired and respected he is within the club.

While he doesn’t wear the captain’s armband, that position as a leader is what helped attract Mendy to Al Ahli in the first place, a role he quite clearly relishes.

“The team is young, with my age now I have experience,” Mendy said earlier this season. “We are also here to help [Saudi Arabian players] to train, and the way they have to think about football outside of the pitch.

“We can see the improvement of the team because of the players and our experiences, and it helps everybody.”

“You can see the big players that have signed here like N’Golo [Kante], Sadio [Mane], Riyad [Mahrez], [Karim] Benzema, they have won like everything. They are sharing their experience, and the Saudi players ask for that. It is the perfect match.”

The passion with which Mendy delivered the post-derby speech showed that, beneath his jovial persona, is a player determined to succeed.

“I would not be coming here to go on holidays, I am here to win,” he said earlier this campaign.

Mendy was one of a number of heralded off-season signings for Al Ahli last summer, as they returned to the RSL after a year in the second division following their shock relegation.

While attacking players like Mahrez, Allan Saint-Maximin and Roberto Firmino capture the lion’s share of media attention - they have a combined 19 goals and 22 assists this season - at the other end Mendy has been just as important for a side that boast the league’s second-best defensive record having conceded 27 goals in 25 matches.

From his reflex save to deny Abderrazak Hamdallah in the derby, or the fingertip efforts to deny both Aschraf El Mahdioui and Lucas Zelaraya against Al Taawoun and Al Fateh, respectively, or even the penalty save to thwart Al Hilal’s Aleksandar Mitrovic, time and again this season Mendy has delivered when it matters most for Al Ahli.

Another clean sheet draws him level with Al Hilal’s Yassine Bono, who Mendy described after the match as his “good friend”.

“For me and for the team it’s really important to have this kind of performance, because we know if we don’t concede, it’s at least one point,” the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations winner said.

“It’s a team performance; it’s not only me or only the defenders. Everybody here, our strikers, they press, and it starts with them and obviously it finishes with me.

“But if everyone does the right thing, at the right moment, it’s easier for everybody.”

Mendy, 32, also expressed pride in the way Al Ahli were able to respond after what he described as a “frustrating” loss to Al Nassr a few weeks ago.

“Against Al Nassr we didn’t show our quality and it was a bit frustrating,” he said.“But we spoke a lot, and against [Al] Ettifaq, without some key players, we did well. We showed our character, and we came back in that game.

“And today, in terms of intensity, in terms of [finding] a good rhythm and the time when they have the ball, we did well and in the end it’s a well-deserved win.”

Mendy, understandably, also reserved a special mention for Al Ahli’s fans after they produced another stirring and colourful display in the stands.

“Crazy… special,” he said. “We can play anywhere, and our fans will make it special. Today they made it again; they never fail to bring the atmosphere.

“We are very happy, and we hope we made them proud. And we will keep it going until the end of the season.”