Benjamin Mendy relishing World Cup triumph, being back healthy with Man City
MIAMI -- Many players would have given up on their World Cup dream when they suffered the devastating blow of a knee injury just 10 months before the tournament kicked off. But Benjamin Mendy never gave up hope. The French defender refused to be dragged down by being forced to watch from the sideline as Manchester City tore up the Premier League, constantly pushing doctors and physios to let him move on to the next stage of his recuperation.
His reward was an emotional return for City in April followed by a Premier League winner's medal and then a call from Didier Deschamps to join the squad for Russia 2018. France triumphed, and Mendy has not let his winner's medal out of his sight since, producing it from the pocket of his training shorts when he sat down with reporters in Miami.
"I have the medal in my pocket," he said. "Before the World Cup, I said to the dressing room, 'If I win I'll come back with the medal.' This is my skin now. For four years, it's my skin for a life. In four years, we have a new World Cup, but now we are the kings."
Mendy made just one appearance at Russia 2018 as a second-half substitute in the final group game against Denmark, but he says he earned his medal and enjoyed it to the fullest with his teammates in the dressing room and with a joyous nation on his return to Paris.
"Some people can say I didn't play a lot, I don't deserve this or that, but if I can take it, then I'll take it. You have to take everything," the 24-year-old added.
"For the World Cup, you don't care. It's better if you're playing, but it was an amazing moment with the team and the staff. We are a big family, and we knew what we wanted to do -- to win the World Cup, and it's what we did. It was amazing to go back to Paris. If you play or you don't play, I enjoyed it. It'll be a day of my life forever."
Mendy had made just five appearances for City when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in a 5-0 victory over Crystal Palace in September, in what wrongly appeared at the time to be an innocuous incident. It would be another 211 days before he would step out for Pep Guardiola's side, but he remained remarkably upbeat throughout an arduous comeback split between Manchester and Barcelona with the surgery specialist Dr. Ramon Cugat.
Serious injuries can leave many players feeling isolated from the first team, but Mendy wasn't going to let that happen to him. He wanted to contribute and felt he could build team spirit. His social media jokes at the expense of teammates Bernardo Silva and Kyle Walker endeared him to City fans, while the sight of him hobbling down the touchline to join in the celebrations of Raheem Sterling's injury-time winner against Southampton showed how much City's success mattered to him.
"Really, I didn't have any low moments," he said. "When I go to the hospital, some people [are worse than] me. It's just one knee, though. The doctor told me you come back after a year, and I've come back. Some people have a big problem, so I don't have a reason to have a bad face. Every day, I was happy. I worked, saw my friends, so I'm happy.
"In the first session in the gym, I couldn't work. I just had to flex my knee. I asked when I can start work. After two or three weeks they said I could work. Then I asked when I can run. All the time, I was asking about when I can do the next thing. I was always asking.
"The time went so quick. I remember when I went to the hospital in Barcelona, I asked before my surgery whether I could go to the World Cup. He said: 'I'm not a magician, but normally, yes.' That was my goal. After this, winning the World Cup, I work and run and do everything."
Mendy is now determined to make up for lost time. He has showed his determination has not diminished by joining up with the City squad less than two weeks after the final in Moscow.
"I prefer to take a few days' holiday and get ready for the season and the future, because I go with the national team and I didn't really play," he added. "So it's better for me to make sure I get ready in a good way. I spoke with Pep and he tells me this is the best for me, and I know that he knows everything. I listen to him and it's better."
"I want to play. When you win one time, you want to win a second time. You don't want to stop. I am so, so, so excited for keeping going like this with the team."
The serious preparations will begin when the majority of the squad are reunited in Manchester, and Mendy will have his medal with him.
"Before we were going, everybody was talking about their country. I said that you'll see the French win, but some other guys said no," he said. "But every time, it's with respect. So when I come back, I don't go, "Waaaaaaah!" I say hi, and we speak."