The sweltering heat, “a little more flexible organization”, the contrast between places of very high standing such as the sumptuous Dakar Arena (15,000 seats) and the misery of working-class neighborhoods. Since the end of October, Claudine Mendy has been very far from the European Championship in North Macedonia and Slovenia.
The left-back with 102 caps in the France team, vice-world champion in 2009 and 2011, joined this season the selection of Senegal, the country of his parents, to compete in the African Cup of Nations. Thursday, she scored 4 goals in the red jersey of the “Lionesses” in the semi-finals against the big favorite of the competition, Angola, but the evening ended in the infinite frustration of a defeat in extra time ( 21-24). He still has a very important match for 3rd place to play on Saturday against Congo-Brazzaville (1 p.m.): the winner will win his ticket for the 2023 World Cup in Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
The strongest moments, however, she does not see them on the floor. Since her arrival, the native of Mantes-la-Jolie (Yvelines) has been teased for her fresh outlook and her daily discoveries. At 32, although both her parents were born here and she speaks Mandjak, one of the local dialects, she had never been to Senegal. “Every time my parents came, I was in competition or in preparation”explains to The Team the one who was a major player in the French youth teams and then the Bleues before experiencing a setback due to serious injuries and a maternity break. She has not worn the blue jersey since 2016 and had therefore largely passed the milestone of three years of latency to be able to join another national team.
“It’s not an easy choice. I was born in France, I played in the France team. It was a bit of a shock”
However, the approach was not obvious when coach Yacine Messaoudi, coach of the Paris 92 club, approached her. A few years ago, she had already been asked by Senegal but had declined. “It’s really special. I hesitated for a long time, says the player from Bourg-de-Péage (Butagaz Energy League). I was very apprehensive. I had never come to the country, I did not know the organization of the CAN, I had to join a collective after having worn the jersey of another nation… It is not an easy choice. I was born in France, I played in the France team. It was a bit of a shock. »
The good contact with the technician changed his position, the context too. “If the CAN didn’t take place in Senegal, I probably wouldn’t have made that choice, she admits. But I believe in signs, things happen for a reason. I’m at the end of my career, it’s an opportunity to discover my country of origin, my roots, and end with an experience that I had never had before. » She does not hide that the Senegalese players receive a daily allowance, “but it’s less than in the France team”. Mendy nevertheless took care to warn the staff of Les Bleues by calling assistant coach Sébastien Gardillou, who did not object.
The members of his family were obviously delighted. This new international competition is the pride of her mother (her father died four years ago). And the joy of his three brothers and sisters and his cousins settled in the country: “It’s a surprise for me, but for them too. They couldn’t believe it until I was on the plane. »
Mendy has organized with her mother and her companion for the care in Bourg-de-Péage of her granddaughter Lina, who has just celebrated her nine years. In Dakar, she was reassured about working conditions, one of her questions. “The Senegalese Federation has provided the means, we have a lot of things available”, she appreciates. As a competitor, she wants to come back with a medal. But for the time being, there is no question that she will play the World Cup with Senegal in the event of qualification: “The deal with Yacine (Messaoudi), is that I play the CAN, just the CAN. »