It took just five days for Benjamin Mendy to return to elite football.

The 29-year-old was found not guilty of rape and attempted rape at Chester Crown Court on Friday, July 14, and by Wednesday, July 19, he had been pictured wearing the colours of Ligue 1 side Lorient.

“Welcome, Benjamin!” said the French club in a statement.

Mendy was a free agent after his Manchester City deal ran out on June 30 and signed a two-year contract with Lorient, a club in Brittany in the north-west of France who, on average, attracted less than 15,000 fans to their home matches as they finished 10th in Ligue 1 last season.

L’arrivée de Benjamin Mendy, nouveau numéro 5⃣ des Merlus 🟠⚫️

— FC LORIENT 🐟 (@FCLorient) July 19, 2023

He is still only 29 years old, after all, and, in terms of playing experience, this was something of a coup for Lorient: to sign a World Cup winner who has also won league titles in France and England.

Yet Mendy has not played professional football for almost two years, since his last appearance for City in a 1-0 loss at Tottenham Hotspur on August 15, 2021.

In the interim, he has spent time in prison on bail ahead of a six-month trial in which he was found not guilty of six counts of rape and one of sexual assault between October 2018 and August 2021. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on two more counts, relating to two women, but Mendy was found not guilty of both after a retrial.

Mendy’s defence barrister, Eleanor Laws KC, said during his first trial that Mendy’s “career in the UK is over, regardless of the verdict” because he will never be able to “shake off the allegations”. She also referenced Ched Evans, the Wales international who was labelled a “pariah” and turned down by a number of clubs in Scotland and England after a backlash from fans before his rape conviction was quashed in 2016.

Details emerged in court about Mendy’s attitude towards women and his partying lifestyle, while he also admitted to drink-driving. Laws called his behaviour “appalling”. He said he was “direct” with women, admitted to “often” having unprotected sex and said he enjoyed having sexual intercourse with lots of different women.

The French sports minister, Amelie Oudea-Castera, was asked about Mendy in an interview with France Info last week.

“He has been acquitted and has had due process, the verdict from the British justice system,” she said. “If it generates the same suspicion when people are acquitted as when they are accused, we lose the sense of justice.

“At the same time, we must continue to push for people speaking out and to respect victims.”

Mendy has done nothing wrong in the eyes of the law, but was it a surprise that he has returned to football so quickly?

Mendy always expected to make a swift comeback if he was found not guilty at his retrial.

He arrived at Chester Crown Court in June looking slimmer than six months earlier and had already received interest from a number of clubs at that point.

“The recruitment team has worked on this for a long time,” said Lorient manager Regis Le Bris last week. “At one point, his name came up as a possibility, alongside others. We really wanted to find someone in this position, it’s not easy. We said ‘why not’ because of the situation of the player but, in the end, a deal was able to happen.”

Lorient insist that no talks took place with Mendy before he was found not guilty. “The club denies that any negotiation with the player took place before the verdict,” said a club spokesman.

Naturally, all interested parties wanted to wait to see what the outcome of Mendy’s retrial would be before making any kind of decision. But the fact offers from other clubs were on the table indicates that exploratory conversations had been ongoing for some time.

The football landscape has also changed dramatically since Mendy’s last professional game, with the emergence of the Saudi Pro League — although it has not been confirmed whether he had interest from the Middle East.

When he left the court after being acquitted of all charges, his only words were “alhamdulillah” — ‘thanks God’.

Jenny Wiltshire, head of serious and general crime at Hickman & Rose, the solicitors that represented Mendy, said: “He thanks everyone who has supported him throughout this ordeal and now asks for privacy so he can begin rebuilding his life.”


Mendy shows his emotions after being found not guilty (Photo: Peter Powell/PA Images via Getty Images)

Mendy has played five-a-side games over the past two years — in accordance with his bail conditions at the time. On occasions, these matches have included other former Premier League footballers.

He was pictured at a Powerleague five-a-side venue in Manchester, two days after he was found not guilty, and posed for pictures with other players in attendance. It was reported that he asked to join their match and signed autographs.

But he has not played elite football for almost two years.

“His health generally is good,” said Le Bris. “There are obviously little things that appear orthopaedically, muscularly, but nothing significant. Next, there is reconditioning work. He has been looking after himself for these two years but it is not the same as being on the pitch, with a ball, playing at the weekend. There is work to do.”

Mendy has also received similar messages of support on social media from high-profile players such as Paul Pogba, Memphis Depay and Vinicius Junior, who apologised to Mendy for “everything you’ve been through”. Their point was very clear: “Can’t wait to see you on the pitch again,” as Pogba wrote.

Lorient’s announcement came as such a surprise that some initially thought it was fake. Then the club’s website temporarily crashed.

“It’s better to stay confidential and I think we did well on this one,” said Le Bris. “For us, we managed here to be discreet.”

By the Wednesday afternoon, Mendy had been pictured in the orange shirt of Lorient, where he will wear No 5. Footballers and former players, including Marcus Thuram and Jeremie Aliadiere, liked or commented favourably on Lorient’s Instagram post announcing his arrival.

Le Bris had a two-hour video call with Mendy before conversations ramped up on Tuesday, July 18 and then negotiations were formally completed the next morning. The manager shares an agent with the defender but said this only helped Lorient get in touch with him.

“He is someone we watch on TV but I had never had the chance to meet him until now,” said Le Bris. “We quickly felt compatible, that we could do something together at this club. He had lots of humility and passion for football; the wish to join a collective project.”

It will take time, however, before he is ready to play again. Le Bris has estimated “six to eight weeks” and reiterated the need for patience.

“It is hard to anticipate — it is competitive games that will be revealing and deliver the verdict,” said the manager.

Finalement, il a l’air d’être plutôt bien intégré non ?

— Lorient Foot (@LorientFoot) July 26, 2023

Lorient are due to play friendlies against Le Havre (July 29) and Nantes (August 2) but it appears a return to England will come far too soon for Mendy when Bournemouth host Lorient in a friendly on August 5. They begin their Ligue 1 campaign away at Paris Saint-Germain on August 12.

But there is another link to Premier League side Bournemouth, whose American owner Bill Foley announced a “strategic partnership” with Lorient in January after becoming a minority investor in the club in January through his vehicle Black Knight Football and Entertainment (BKFE).

“It’s really to control our destiny,” said Foley before the investment, “to develop players in other locations and buy clubs that have great academies that are developing their own players.”

Lorient, after all, have made plenty of money selling players to the Premier League in the past — Laurent Koscielny, Matteo Guendouzi, Jordan Ayew, Didier Ndong and Lamine Kone have all made that move.

But it was not Foley’s decision to weigh up whether or not to sign Mendy and neither he nor his partners were advised about any negotiations or the signing, according to a source close to Lorient who wishes to remain anonymous to protect relationships.

Loic Fery, Lorient’s owner and president, who runs a credit business in London, is the ultimate kingmaker and this was a move made by Lorient’s football and management teams.

Ouest-France, the newspaper for the Brittany region where Lorient is based, ran a story interviewing fans at the club’s training ground, who were delighted about attracting a player of such stature.

“Justice has been done and he is innocent,” said a fan called Emilie. “I come to watch a football match and support the team. His private life doesn’t concern us, this case has had too much publicity.”

Others quoted in the French media, however, felt differently.

“That he has a right to a second chance is not a problem, it’s the decision of the judge,” Pierre Le Gac told Le Parisien. “But my club giving him this second chance, that bothers me.”

Le Bris echoed the sentiments of the French sports minister.

“The rule of law must be taken at face value,” he said. “We cannot redo the process. This has been settled. We cannot speak casually of a trial.

“But what I like about this story is that it is about an outsider being rehabilitated, succeeding after a difficulty. It is symbolic (of) what is happening with Benjamin in relation to what we want to be as a team and as a club.


Regis talks to the press on July 21 (Photo: Damien Meyer/AFP via Getty Images)

“The position is always the same: we must win over the public. What will generate enthusiasm and popularity is if we perform well, with intensity and commitment, and if we win matches.

“Clearly we can’t stop people having opinions, for or against. But what will make it work is the performances, attitude on the pitch, and the club and its supporters.”

There was no statement from Premier League champions Manchester City when Mendy was found not guilty earlier this month but, by then, he was no longer their player.

His name had been included in the list of players due to be released when their contracts ended at the season’s close and that was it for a player who was the world’s most expensive defender when he moved from Monaco for £52million ($66.8m in today’s currency) in 2017.

City continued to select Mendy after he was first arrested in November 2020 but suspended him in August 2021 after he was first charged by police. He told the court City had stopped paying him his wages, worth around £100,000 a week, by the September of that year.

His company — BM Sport Consulting Limited, which was understood to handle his image rights and of which Mendy was the sole director — was issued with a winding-up order by His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) in March of this year, and was liquidated in May. The UK tax authority also filed for bankruptcy against Mendy in December.


Mendy lifts the Premier League trophy in May 2021 (Photo: Matt McNulty – Manchester City/Manchester City FC via Getty Images)

Watches deemed so precious that a former City player liaison officer told the court she “instructed somebody to fit a lock on his bedroom door” because there were “lots of empty boxes of Rolex and Cartier watches” have been sold. A fleet of supercars, including a Lamborghini and an Audi RS6, have also been moved on. But the £4.8million, six-bed Cheshire mansion Mendy bought from the former England cricketer Andrew Flintoff in 2018 remains in his name.

There is, though, clearly a financial motivation behind Mendy’s quick return to professional football. The same former City employee spoke at Mendy’s trial about his attitude towards money — “There were invoices that weren’t being paid for,” she said. “I know Benjamin was sending a lot of money back to his family” — and he has gone nearly two years without pay.

During the first trial, Mendy also admitted to ongoing unprofessionalism during his time as a City player, including holding several parties before training and games — despite Covid-19 lockdown restrictions which prohibited gatherings at the time — and taking measures to disguise those parties after being fined two weeks’ wages by his club.

Mendy was in custody from August 2021 until January 2022 and was then subject to strict bail conditions. It is unclear whether these conditions, which included living at his home address, observing a curfew and surrendering his passport, would have precluded him from attending City’s premises for safeguarding purposes.

A Football Association spokesperson said: “We have robust safeguarding measures in place and all referrals to us are handled in line with our policies and procedures. We do not comment on individual cases.”

City did not send a representative to attend court but Mendy received a character reference from Pep Guardiola in November 2022. The Premier League had stopped ahead of the World Cup and the City manager was abroad but appeared via videolink because “he (Mendy) asked me to”.

Guardiola told the court the Frenchman was a “really good boy” and someone who is “so generous” but he had “no idea” what Mendy did when he was not playing football because he is “not his father”.

The manager also said it would be “difficult to find anyone in the locker room who would speak badly of him (Mendy)”.

Earlier this week, pictures of Mendy larking around with his new Lorient team-mates emerged on social media.

“Finally, he seems to be rather well integrated, doesn’t he?” commented one user.

Additional reporting: Matt Slater and Sam Lee

(Top photo: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)