This isn’t the first time Carlo Ancelotti and Ferland Mendy have been at the same club. When the Italian arrived in the Paris Saint-Germain dugout in 2011, a 16-year-old Mendy was in the French club’s youth system and going through one of the most difficult moments of his career. Hip surgery had left him in a wheelchair and he required significant rehabilitation just to be able to walk again. The recovery was going well, but, at that time, playing football for Ancelotti’s first team was a distant dream.
Now, 10 years on, Mendy will play for Ancelotti. It’s not in Paris, with the left-back leaving the PSG youth academy in 2012 and with the Italian doing so to join Real Madrid for the first time in 2013. But, once again their paths have coincided. Once again, they’re on the same payroll.
Their reunion almost arrived much sooner, though. In 2019, when Mendy was the most intriguing left-back on the market after two seasons impressing with Lyon and after being given his France senior team debut by Didier Deschamps, Ancelotti wanted the full-back for his project at Napoli. The interest was serious.
In conversations with Napoli’s sporting director Cristiano Giuntoli, Ancelotti made clear that Mendy was to be a top target. Napoli had Mário Rui and Faouzi Ghoulam as the left-back options in the squad, but neither had fully convinced in the previous season and Ancelotti had even preferred deploying right-back Elseid Hysaj on the left of defence on occasion.
Giuntoli had a good relationship with Lyon and negotiations reached the point where Napoli offered €25m for Mendy, a sum lower than Lyon wanted but a sum that they did seriously consider. Lyon were patient, though, and held on, waiting for bigger clubs to bite. And that’s what happened.
The problem for Napoli was that the main competition that emerged was Real Madrid, a club with an even better relationship with Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas and a club with a lot more money. That’s why Mendy eventually moved to Real Madrid for €48m, plus potential bonuses. It was one of many blows for Napoli that summer, who were left as the eternal bridesmaid watching wedding after wedding from the side as they missed out on most of their main targets.
In any case, Ancelotti was gone from Naples by the end of 2019. Now, a couple of years on, he is back at the Bernabéu and Mendy should be one of the first names on the coach’s teamsheet each week, assuming that the Frenchman recovers fully from what is a very complicated shin splints injury, one that kept him out of Les Bleus’ Euro 2020 squad.
Besides being a coach who admires Mendy, Ancelotti should be a good coach for the left-back. In various different ways. In terms of communication, the Italian speaks very good French and this could be key considering Mendy’s Spanish still isn’t fluent. When Mendy arrived at the Bernabéu in 2019, he told the media: “It’s important for me that the coach is Zinedine Zidane, who also speaks French.” Ancelotti isn’t Zidane. But, he at least ticks the languages box.
Then, Ancelotti and Mendy should be fun to watch in a tactical sense too. The Italian has used so many different schemes over the years, using various different formations in his last job at Everton. But, he has consistently looked to get his full-backs high up the pitch. After attacking like a stiff flamingo during his first months at Real Madrid, Mendy was getting forward more and better just before his 2020/21 campaign was prematurely ended by injury.
There have been some reports that Ancelotti could use Mendy as a centre-back, partly because he previously used David Alaba mostly at left-back at Bayern Munich – a relationship that will be explored later in this series. However, Mendy at centre-back would surely only be a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency option. Alaba has been signed by Real Madrid to play primarily in central defence and if he is ever in the team alongside Mendy then it’ll be the French full-back who’ll be the closest to that left touchline. A back four of right-back, right-centre-back, Mendy, Alaba is not realistic, despite what some reports have claimed.
Ancelotti is going to use Ferland Mendy as a left-back and he’s going to use him well. That’s why he wanted Mendy for his Napoli side two years ago.