MENDEZ JOINS MIDDLESBROUGH: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE EX-PREM STAR
An endeared figure of adoration across his successful three years in the Welsh Capital, the footballing world was left stunned when Cardiff City suddenly announced that the contract of star player Nathaniel Mendez-Laing had been terminated just three days prior to the Bluebirds’ opening fixture against Sheffield Wednesday.
The dooming news was as aching and agonising as it was bewildering. No one- and I mean no one- had seen it coming.
After arriving from Rochdale on a free transfer in the summer of 2017, Mendez-Laing elevated his way into the hearts of the Bluebirds faithful with a series of sensational moments.
Cast your mind back to the final day of the 18-19 season. Despite their relegation already a heartfelt confirmation, Cardiff City ran out 2-0 victors against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United. It was Mendez-Laing who captured the headlines on the day though, netting both goals as the fortress of Old Trafford was reduced to his playground.
Then, you have his memorable screamer in the relegation six-pointer away to Brighton and Hove Albion. Or even, if you are feeling particularly nostalgic, the winger’s scintillating start to life in South Wales. Five goals in his opening six games promptly earned Mendez-Laing ‘Championship Player of the Month’, a feat which earmarked the Birmingham native as a real threat to second-tier defences ever since.
But now, it is a new dawn for the twenty-eight year old.
After reported interest from Derby County, Middlesbrough announced the signing of Nathaniel Mendez-Laing on a contract until the end of the season.
This move facilitates a reunion with Mendez-Laing and the man who gave him his big break in the Championship, Neil Warnock. The pair enjoyed a fruitful relationship during their time together at Cardiff City, achieving a truly remarkable promotion to the Premier League in 2018.
Speaking of the renaissance, Warnock said “I know Mendez well and he will give us an added dimension. It’ll be a couple of weeks before he’s match fit but it’ll be great to have him for this run-in now.
“We have been short of wide players and he is a player with something to prove. We’re looking forward to having him here”
And from viewing social media over the course of the evening, it is fair to say that the arrival of the equipped attacker has been met with firm jubilation by the Middlesbrough fanbase.
From a more magnified perspective, what exactly will Mendez-Laing add to the Middlesbrough ranks?
As you would typically expect from a Neil Warnock side, the Teesiders are defensively astute and a very well-drilled outfit, conceding just twenty four goals this term. However, getting the ball into the other net has proved a somewhat challenging task.
Alarmingly, The Boro have only tasted the ecstasy of scoring a goal once in their last five outings, emphasising the ever-growing outcry for an injection of firepower at the Riverside Stadium.
Whilst Mendez-Laing is far from a cultured goalscorer, his raw pace and directness opens up defences in an instant and precipitates fast, free-flowing attacking movements.
His enthralling burst of energy in the final third may just be what Middlesbrough are desperate for.
The proverbial term ‘headless chicken’ is a frequent saying used by football supporters to describe a player who moves quickly but has little idea of how to use that speed. Mendez-Laing on the other hand, weaponises his explosive pace to devastating effect.
The Wolves academy product knows when to tease the opposition with feint movements and deft, light touches. But most importantly, he knows when to utilise his party piece- that being the rip roaring, rocketing burst of pace possessed by the wide man.
If you need verification of simply how effective Mendez-Laing’s dribbling and speed is in one on one situations, ask Champions League winner Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Regarded as one of the most gifted full-backs in modern football, the Liverpool man was subdued to a tormentous afternoon when the Reds travelled to South Wales in April 2019. Affectionately dubbed ‘the Scouse Cafu’, Liverpool’s golden boy proved powerless to contain Mendez-Laing- routinely being skinned and outmuscled by his fellow countryman.
Equally entertaining as he is enthralling, the former Bluebirds dynamo also beholds a host of awe-inducing flicks and tricks within his footballing weaponry.
Along with this, a bulging physical build with phenomenal strength allows Mendez-Laing to shield the ball with great success and reign supreme in a large number of his duels, further showcasing what a testing proposition the athletic spectacle can prove to be.
The definitive reason for his benumbing departure is still very much speculation. The likely outcome is that it will remain that way, too. But a matter that is very rarely speculated amongst Cardiff City supporters is the quality possessed by their former marvel.
Months out of the game have provoked questions of whether Mendez-Laing still has the fitness levels to rekindle his gleaming profile in the Championship. And that is a case that can only be told by time.
Ultimately though, if performances can be exhibited anywhere near the level of what we eagerly observed at the Cardiff City Stadium Middlesbrough have an extremely gifted footballer on their hands.