Premier League outcasts Trezeguet and Nampalys Mendy are the surprise stars of the AFCON

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Unavailable for their clubs in the English Premier League but crucial for their national teams. 

So far, the season of Mahmoud Ahmed Ibrahim Hassan, known as Trezeguet, and Nampalys Mendy could be summarised in this way. 

The Aston Villa left winger has played only 10 minutes in the Premier League so far, while the Leicester midfielder didn’t play at all. 

Mendy only accumulated 31 minutes in the EFL Cup third round against Brighton & Hove Albion. 

Trezeguet has been instrumental for Egypt at AFCON despite lack of playing time at Aston Villa

Trezeguet has been instrumental for Egypt at AFCON despite lack of playing time at Aston Villa

Brighton youngster Nampalys Mendy has also been crucial to Senegal reaching the AFCON final

Brighton youngster Nampalys Mendy has also been crucial to Senegal reaching the AFCON final

But despite their lack of rhythm, both of them have surprisingly helped Egypt and Senegal reach the final of the 33rd edition of the 2021 African Cup of Nations (Afcon). 

Coaches Carlos Queiroz and Aliou Cissé didn’t care too much about their clubs’ situation and the players proved on the pitch what receiving unconditional trust means. 

After a lengthy knee injury, Trezeguet returned to the field on 2 January in the defeat to Brentford. 

Then he joined Egypt in Cameroon and on 11 January he began as a starter in the inaugural defeat to Nigeria, but his poor performance and inadequate physical condition convinced Queiroz to use him as a second half option. 

In the knockout stage, in the clashes against Ivory Coast, Morocco and Cameroon, Trezeguet was always Queiroz’s first choice off the bench. 

The Portuguese technician prefers him to play as a withdrawn forward on the flank with the aim to provide the Egypt midfield with more quality in the transmission of the ball to the attacking wingers Omar Marmoush and Mohamed Salah. 

Trezeguet has been key to help provide the Egypt midfield with more quality to supply the forward line

Trezeguet has been key to help provide the Egypt midfield with more quality to supply the forward line

In the context of a fairly submissive style of play, Trezeguet has always revived the Pharaohs’ offensive plan when he came in. 

Salah, often isolated from the rest of the team, has visibly benefited from his entry in what was his best game so far against North African rival Morocco. 

In the extra time, Liverpool number 11 assisted Trezeguet for the decisive goal that allowed Egypt to get through to the semi-finals. 

‘Starting the game or coming in in the second half doesn’t matter,’ said Mohamed Nagy, better known as Gedo. 

The former Egyptian striker spent a couple of seasons on loan at Hull City and was the matchwinner of the 2010 Afcon final, the third win in a row for the Pharaohs.

Former Egyptian striker Gedo (pictured) insists every player should be prepared to play any amount of time

Former Egyptian striker Gedo (pictured) insists every player should be prepared to play any amount of time

‘Every player should be mentally prepared to play any amount of time,’ he continued. 

‘When you enter the pitch, the most important thing is to help the team, no matter if you play 90 minutes or even 1 minute, because any minute can change the game. 

‘That is what happened to me in 2010 in Angola and what is happening to Trezeguet this year.’ 

Gedo – who scored six goals always coming off the bench in that edition of the Afcon – recalled that when he was called by the then Egyptian coach Hassan Shehata to come in in the final, he repeated himself several times that it was time to be helpful to the team which was physically struggling against the younger Ghana side. 

Queiroz’s men will also be very tired after having played extra-time three matches in a row. 

They even had one day less of rest than Senegal. ‘Fresher players such as Trezeguet and [Zamalek midfielder] Zizo will make the difference,’ claimed Gedo referring to tonight’s final. 

‘Egypt needs them now.’ Senegal also needs Nampalys Mendy to maintain their defensive strength in their first attempt to win their first Cup of Nations. 

Mendy (pictured) and Trezeguet will be the difference in the final due to being fresher

Mendy (pictured) and Trezeguet will be the difference in the final due to being fresher

The French-born 29 year-old made his debut for Senegal only last March in a goalless draw against Congo in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers despite having a long experience in the French Ligue 1 and dozens of caps in the France youth national teams. 

In a Twitter Q&A session on the Senegal FA Twitter account after defeating Cape Verde in the round of 16, Mendy stated that he hadn’t yet made his debut with Senegal because he hadn’t been called up yet. 

But it took him little to make up for lost time. He soon became essential in Cissé’s line-up, even though Brendan Rodgers sidelined him earlier this season leaving him out of Leicester’s Premier League squad. 

Last June, Cissé, who isn’t of the same opinion as Rodgers, revealed that he personally looked for Mendy. 

Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers left Mendy out of his 25-man Premier League squad

Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers left Mendy out of his 25-man Premier League squad

‘He was a missing ring [in our squad],’ he said. ‘I tried various players in that role of ‘deep-lying central midfielder’ and was looking for a player who could offer more balance and greater serenity to the team.’ 

According to the former Senegalese coach, building a team means observing where you need to improve and choosing the right player to do it. 

What has been striking is Mendy’s physical condition, also considering that he tested positive for Covid-19 before the tournament and had to miss the first two games. 

He claimed his place in the first XI in the third game against Malawi and never left it. 

‘Mentally, my situation at the club is very difficult,’ he answered a fan’s question. 

‘I’m a football enthusiast and when you’re deprived of what you love, it’s complicated, but I worked very very hard to be here and today it’s paying off.’ 

Mendy’s performance went beyond the tactical aspect. In a midfield more dedicated to destroying than creating, the Leicester midfielder has also been able to deputise as a playmaker. 

He did it especially in the quarterfinal against Equatorial Guinea when he was named man of the match ahead of Sadio Mané who had notched a couple of assists. 

Rodgers couldn’t eventually stay indifferent to Mendy’s talent and put him back on the Premier League list for the second half of the season. 

He, as well as Steven Gerrard with Trezeguet, will find unexpected reinforcements in the two who have been the surprises of the Afcon. 

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