When Ferland Mendy arrived at Real Madrid in 2019, he knew he had a battle on his hands.
If the wideman was to establish himself as the first choice left-back at the Bernabeu, he would have to unseat a veritable club legend in Marcelo.
The Brazil international has become an institution at Real since arriving at the club from Fluminense in 2007.
Since then, he’s made over 350 league appearances, and won all there is to win at club level, including five Spanish titles, two Copa del Reys, and the Club World Cup on four occasions.
Most importantly, the Olympic silver medallist has also clinched the Champions League four times, and was part of the side who clinched Real’s Decima—an achievement that is unlikely to be matched any time soon.
However, all good things come to an end, and at 32, Marcelo cannot go on forever.
Since his arrival at Real, he’s seen off competition from the likes of Gabriel Heinze, Marcos Alonso, Nacho, Fabio Coentrao, Royston Drenthe and Sergio Reguilon to retain the left-back slot and establish himself as a club legend.
The arrival of Mendy, however, surely sheds light on Real’s long-term future in the position.
Los Blancos parted with £43.2 million to recruit the Frenchman from Olympique Lyonnais, making him—at the time—the second most expensive left-back in the history of the game, behind only Manchester City’s Benjamin Mendy.
“I will be his successor,” Mendy said of Marcelo at the time of his arrival. “He has a lot of time left, but if they’ve brought me here, it’s because they see potential.”
Ferland has all the tools to oust Marcelo permanently and even match the Brazilian’s legacy at Real, becoming a world-class left-back in the process.
He’s a classic modern full-back, capable of bursting forward into the opposition half and influencing events in the final third, but he’s also defensively astute as well.
“[He has] an extraordinary offensive potential, exceptional technique and defensive qualities coupled with his pace,” said his former coach at Le Havre, Thierry Goudet.
“In short, he has the full range of a modern full-back.”
His pace, as noted by Goudet, is one of his key assets—both offensively, as he beats opposition full-backs, and defensively, as he tracks back to cover spaces left behind when Real push forward.
While Marcelo initially retained the left-back berth following Mendy’s arrival—the 24-year-old was made to work for his spot—the Frenchman has begun to earn a larger portion of playing time.
He’s already a Spanish champion, having been part of the team that won the title last season, and Los Blancos didn’t lose a single game that the full-back started last year—testament to how his presence improves the defence.
Perhaps Marcelo still offers more going forward—he’s one of the greatest attacking left-backs in modern football’s history—but Mendy’s calmness and composure have been massive assets to a Real backline that can be got at.
Some would praise Real coach Zidane for his loyalty towards Marcelo, while others may argue that the World Cup winner has been slow to accept the inevitable and integrate Mendy into his starting XI.
Mendy deserves credit for how he has knuckled down and sought to improve his game to oust Marcelo, and the way with which he has taken the demands of featuring for Real—perhaps the world’s biggest club—in his stride.
He’s rarely looked fazed, rarely looked ruffled, rarely looked overawed by the expectation, even though the capital club have endured a particularly testing 18 months.
So far this season, Mendy has made 10 appearances to Marcelo’s five, particularly impressing in the 2-0 victory away at Levante, when the hosts failed to cope with his rampaging runs forward, and the recent 2-0 triumph over Borussia Monchengladbach in the Champions League.
In the latter match, Mendy was given the nod ahead of Marcelo, and delivered exactly the kind of performance that Real required, where his reliability and defensive focus successfully neutralised Alassane Plea and helped keep the German side at bay.
It’s too soon to completely write Marcelo off yet, but when the South American eventually does bid the Bernabeu farewell, Mendy is primed to step into his boots…some would argue he’s already there!