On Friday afternoon, former Manchester City defender Benjamin Mendy wept as he heard the words “not guilty” echo around Chester Crown Court.

It marked the end of an almost three-year long process during which time Mendy faced multiple charges of rape, attempted rape and sexual assault. In January this year, he was cleared of six counts of rape and one of sexual assault at the end of a five-month trial.

As the jury could not reach verdicts on two claims relating to two women, a retrial was ordered, meaning six months on from his first trial, Mendy was back in court at the end of June.

Friday’s verdicts mean Mendy, 29, has now been found not guilty of all claims against him. Upon leaving court he said only “alhamdulillah” — ‘thanks God’.

Within hours, others chose to fill the silence.

Benjamin Mendy

All cases dismissed.
So what are we doing now?
Who is going to help this brother heal?
Who’s going to be Responsable for the damage on he’s name?
How he’s going to have he’s career back?
Many years of investment to become a professional football player…. Now… pic.twitter.com/84kxF77RgY

— Memphis Depay (@Memphis) July 14, 2023

On Friday Atletico Madrid striker Memphis Depay posted a tweet to his 2.6 million followers in support of Mendy, asking who is going to support him now that he has been cleared?

“We can’t accept this to happen to us as athletes.. Who’s going to stand up for us in the time of need not when the damage is already done?”

The tweet is pinned to the top of his profile page and at time of writing has been viewed more than 34 million times.

A quick scroll through Depay’s Instagram post (a replica of the one on Twitter), shows “likes” from a host of top level male footballers, past and present. In the comments, there are “applause” emojis and words of support from Manchester City’s Jack Grealish, Arsenal’s Oleksandr Zinchenko, Real Madrid defender Antonio Rudiger, former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand, and former Juventus midfielder Miralem Pjanic.

On Instagram, former Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba posted a screenshot of a video call between himself and Mendy, the pair both smiling. “So happy for you bro…” Pogba wrote in the caption. “Can’t wait to see you on the pitch again.”

Among the 1.5 million-plus “likes” for the post was one from Brazil and Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar.

In the early hours of Sunday morning (UK time), Real Madrid’s Vinicius Junior voiced his thoughts to his 7.5 million followers on Twitter, starting with an apology to Mendy for “everything you’ve been through”.

I’m sorry for everything you’ve been through, Benjamin Mendy.

You lost two years of your career, but that’s the least of this whole situation… What about the psychological damage? Surely your life will never be the same. The culture of destroying reputations has made yet… pic.twitter.com/8ZtWeZ4C10

— Vini Jr. (@vinijr) July 16, 2023

Notable among the supportive replies are two from Andrew Tate, who has been charged in Romania with human trafficking, rape and forming an organised crime group, allegations he denies.

The controversial influencer is a self-proclaimed “misogynist”. In a YouTube interview he said: “I’m a realist and when you’re a realist, you’re sexist. There’s no way you can be rooted in reality and not be sexist.” In the same interview he described women as “intrinsically lazy” and said there was “no such thing as an independent female”.

Is it surprising to see such public support for Mendy from some of his fellow professionals, and others? Frankly, yes. Shocking, even.

Why? For a start because of the nature of the case.

Mendy was accused of eight counts of rape, one of attempted rape, and sexual assault relating to seven women. He has been found not guilty, but Mendy’s own evidence provided during both trials paints a picture of an attitude towards women that is disrespectful, but also incredibly dangerous in terms of where it can lead.

During the first trial Mendy said he was “direct” with women: “I prefer to ask to have sex after few words than to be like, ‘Hello, can you meet the next day?’, ‘Can you go for a date?’”

The jury heard his “chat up lines”, including: “I said to her, ‘Show me your bum’. She showed me her bum and I said: ‘Do you want to have sex?’” They discovered he never used contraception, despite regularly sleeping with multiple women in the course of a night. They heard that Mendy and his friends sometimes had sex with the same women, albeit separately, on some nights.

During his cross-examination in the second trial, Mendy admitted to “often” having unprotected sex and said he enjoyed having sexual intercourse with lots of different women.

Mendy also revealed that “it wasn’t difficult” to meet women, due to his status as a Premier League footballer.

At one point Benjamin Aina KC (acting for the CPS) asked Mendy whether he “just wanted women who were interested in sex”, to which the 2018 World Cup winner replied, “Yeah”.

Are the players expressing their support for Mendy fully aware of the case details? Or have they simply heard the “not guilty” verdict and felt that is reason enough to speak up?

It seems strange for players who are aware of just how powerful and far-reaching their voices are to put their heads above the parapet in a situation like this because, on so many other issues that would benefit from their support (i.e. women and LGBTQI+ rights in Qatar and human rights in Saudi Arabia where Amnesty International figures that say executions have increased sevenfold since 2020), it is much harder to get them to do so.

Perhaps the reason for that is that for the majority of footballers, those issues don’t have any direct impact. They aren’t affected by those things, so why would they use their voice or platform to highlight the horrors caused by them?

Elite athletes are inherently selfish beings. They have to be. In the case of many top level footballers, they have been trained to focus on themselves from a young age. In order to reach the top they often have to leave behind friends and family, miss important events and put themselves first at all times.

Thinking of how others might be affected by their behaviour or the behaviour of others presumably isn’t something that fits easily into that mindset. But Mendy’s case clearly feels personal to them.

The social media posts suggest these players view Mendy’s case as an attack on them all. An attack by those who falsely accuse. By the media. By the trial-by-social-media society in which we now live.

They provide an insight into the minds of players for whom vast wealth, legions of fans, millions of social media followers, act as no defence in the face of those who they believe wish to take it all away from them.

They have seen other colleagues placed in different but similarly difficult situations involving allegations of sexual offences which of course cast a terrible shadow over them for months, sometimes years, as they wait for the justice system to come to its verdict.

In Vinicius Jr’s post, he wrote: “The culture of destroying reputations has made yet another victim.”

And in many ways, that feeling is understandable. Just last week Grealish posted a headline on Instagram from a tabloid newspaper: “Jack the lad, Man City hero Jack Grealish scores a hat-trick as he cosies up to third woman on holiday after winning the Champions League.”

Underneath a screenshot of the page, Grealish wrote: “A woman on her hen do asks me for a photo in a beach club in Ibiza and I said yes… Now this is your headline? If I say no to the photo you call me arrogant and rude but if I have the photo then this is your headline?”

Perhaps the players voicing their support for Mendy are doing so in the belief that his case is all part of this same story.

Perhaps they truly believe that they are, as Vinicius Jr wrote, the “victims”.

(Photo: OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)