This summer, DZfoot offers you a series of articles specifically dedicated to the Greens of the world. This time, it’s Aïssa Mandi’s turn to be the center of all attention.
He’s been there for so long that we forget he’s only 30 and still has many good years ahead of him. With 76 games played in the selection, he is probably the most likely to beat Lakhdar Belloumi’s record (97) and reach the symbolic bar of one hundred appearances.
So far in steady progression, both in the club and in the selection, Aïssa Mandi remains a discreet player on and off the pitch. Aside from the nice lines on set pieces that sometimes turn into goals, he doesn’t particularly stand out for angry tackles or scoring with pants. What has always been his strong point is his good reading of the game, his sense of anticipation and his good recovery. He has become the only indisputable rear guard over the years … so far.
A model of regularity
His club career is reduced to just three teams, proof of the seriousness of the character. Mandi started playing at home, in Reims, at the age of 8 and naturally progressed through the stages to signing as a pro at a legendary club (double Champions League finalist) then on the rise. He started as a senior in National (3rd division), shortly after graduating from high school, before fully participating in the Ligue 1 rise of the Champagne club. He will immediately follow four full seasons at the highest level of French football.
After helping for a long time as a left-back, but above all as a right-back, the slender defender (1’86) will have to wait for his last season with Reims to settle in the defense axis. It was also in late 2013 and then early 2014 that he discovered the Greens as a right-back while Madjid Bougherra was still the boss.
His excellent performances and irreproachable demeanor immediately attracted the attention of a Vahid Halilodzic passionate about this player profile. At 22, Mandi is playing a World Cup and if he remains on the bench against Belgium he will make his debut against South Korea, never to leave the national team again.
At 24, now clearly center-right on a two-hinge or right piston in a three-man defense, Mandi discovers scoring skills (11 in two Ligue 1 seasons) and, after also playing in CAN, becomes too big for a Stade de Reims falling back to Ligue 2.
Once announced at AS Saint-Etienne or Olympique Lyonnais, he is in another green-colored club that he will sign in 2016. Real Betis, the second club of the city of Seville, where the native of Châlons-en-Champagne will discover the pressure from the highest European level.
In a Spanish La Liga championship vying for the title of the best championship in the world together with the English first division, Mandi confronts the cream of the ball. His coach at the time, Gustavo Poyet, will have him field in his first match at the Camp Nou. The discovery will be easy for Mandi who will experience a complicated season alongside his club, which will suffer heavy six-bus defeats against Barça and Real Madrid.
He has always known how to face the stages, but at his own pace
The following season will be more convincing as Bétis finish in 6th place in the standings and qualify for the Europa League. Aïssa Mandi, comfortable in Spanish and well suited to her new club, will clearly cross a threshold and stand out twice against Real Madrid. Under the orders of Quique Setien, who will then try to attract him when he arrives at Barça, the Algerian will go on, a lot. Together with Marc Bartra or Zouhir Feddal, he is finally starting to attract the attention of the most exclusive clubs, especially in Italy, his talent and consistency of him make him a man many would like to rely on.
In the selection Georges Leekens appointed him captain during the catastrophic CAN 2017 where he had to fill the gaps of a losing team together with Bensebaini in particular in axis. Sometimes he will then be replaced as left-back by Lucas Alcaraz or Rabah Madjer, preferring Hassani or Chafai to him. even Belmadi on his debut made him play as a full-back.
In 2018-2019, at the age of 27, he played his first European competition, notably a double confrontation against AC Milan in the Europa League, but Sétien’s departure would not have been successful for players who had an average very season, finishing second part of the standings. Mandi, meanwhile, floats in a still equally irregular Bétis.
In the summer of 2019 he won the African Cup as a right-hand axis in a pivotal which he composed with Djamel Benlamri. Regaining his colors after being carried around in different positions, he who was also sometimes asked to send him out because he didn’t seem comfortable as a right-back, Mandi literally explodes and forms an iron defense that will only concede three goals in seven games . He who was able to be the trusted man of all breeders, is also an undisputed keeper here in the eyes of Djamel Belmadi, who asked this discreet character to be violent.
Rediscover the colors
Mandi is therefore at the top. In the club, now under Manuel Pellegrini, he became vice-captain and was solicited by many big clubs. Sevilla FC, Olympique de Marseille, Borussia Dortmund, Atletico Madrid, Liverpool and Inter are all interested in the player who is patiently coming to the end of his contract.
Eventually he will make what he felt was the safe choice by joining Villarreal, recent Europa League winners and then Champions League qualifiers. Passionately wanted by Unai Emery, he thus opts for a goal that should allow him to discover C1 at the age of 29, assuring him playing times that he probably would not have had in Milan, Madrid or Liverpool.
However, since his European Super Cup debut against Chelsea, Mandi’s state has been questioning. Substitute, he only goes into extra time, from the right, and to keep a score that his team will eventually let go. This final, lost by Villarreal, therefore, perfectly illustrates Mandi’s season: behind Raúl Albiol (36 years old), Mandi will play only … 24 minutes in the beautiful course of his people in LDC, and will only be entitled to fourteen La Liga begins. This is not, however, what will allow its people to shine as Villarreal will end up in a dismal 7th place that will only allow them to play in the simple Europa League Conference playoffs.
A disappointing season for two titles for Mandi who, like his teammates in the selection, will miss an Africa Cup in Cameroon and then a second World Cup after being eliminated in the play-offs.
Almost 31 years old, Aïssa Mandi no longer wants to wait but with Raul Albiol not planning to retire, the Algerian already has to work hard to find a starting position in Villarreal … or elsewhere.