Arthritis in his hip almost put paid to Ferland Mendy's footballing dreams as an adolescent, but on Wednesday the 24-year-old saw a dream become reality as he put pen to paper on a bumper deal to join France legend Zinedine Zidane's Real Madrid side for six years. Mendy will be presented to the Spanish press in Madrid on 19 June.
Deschamps: 'An amazing rise'
"He has had an amazing rise: he was in Domino's Ligue 2 two years ago and now he's moving to Madrid," declared France boss Didier Deschamps in something of a spoiler earlier in the week. And his story is all the more amazing as the Mendy could easily have missed out on a football career of any mind, let alone one that took him to Real Madrid: when he was at the Paris Saint-Germain youth academy, as a 14- or 15-year-old, he was diagnosed with arthritis in his hip.
"But I never gave up. Even at that moment, in my head, I told myself it was impossible that I would never walk again, that I would not be able to play football... I was in a wheelchair for quite a while, and then a walking frame. Little by little, they taught me to walk once again," the youngster told Le Parisien. "It was me who chose to leave PSG. After my injury, they said that high-level football was no longer a possibility and that I had to give up on my dream. I persisted. I played through the pain for two years, and never gave up, and eventually I got through it."
Now he will stride confidently into the Spanish capital on the back of a six-year, €48m (plus €5m in bonuses) deal - a big payday for club Olympique Lyonnais, who bought him for €5m just two seasons ago.
Turning point: Moscow
Le Havre, where he signed after leaving PSG (after a brief stint with FC Mantois in the fourth division to regain match fitness), should also reap a reward from this big-money transfer, having negotiated a share of future transfers when the player moved to Lyon. The native of Meulan-en-Yvelines (Paris region) signed Normandy club Le Havre in 2013 and joined the senior squad the following season, going on to play 51 Domino's Ligue 2 matches (two goals). In 2017, he was named in the division's All-star team and made a move to the big time with Lyon.
An ankle injury handed him a tough start at the Rhône valley club, where competition for placed in Bruno Genesio's side was strong. However, the persistent youngster stuck top his guns and got his break one night in Moscow in March 2018. In the Russian capital, his rival for left-back duties Marçal refused to shake Genesio's hand when subbed off in the 70th minute of their last-16 return leg clash with CSKA, which saw him suspended from the first team. This was Mendy's chance, and he grabbed it with both hands, helping Lyon to a third-placed finish in a strong final phase of the league campaign.
'I'm not scared of competition'
Season 2018-2019 saw him confirm his immense potential, playing 30 matches )two goals) and earning a maiden France call-up in November 2018, just as Senegal were also looking to lure him.
"I was having a siesta," Mendy recalled of the moment he heard that France boss Didier Deschamps had given him the nod. "When I woke up, I saw that [OL staff member] Guy Genet had called me a number of times. I wondered what I had done..."
And it was unduly with France at the naitonal-team training centre at Clairefontaine that Mendy underwent his preliminary medical exams with Real Madrid's representatives, who requested supplementary tests, doubtless in connection with his history of hip trouble.
At Madrid, Mendy will once again have to do battle with a Brazilian as he looks for game time in Zinedine Zidane's side - a certain Marcelo - but the Frenchman is unlikely to get shy now.
"I'm not scared of competition," he smiled when signing for Lyon in 2017. "It's part of the game."