Three months after leaving OM, Steve Mandanda will return to his former club and the Vélodrome this Sunday in Ligue 1 with the Stade Rennes jersey (3 p.m.). A match that promises to be very emotional for the goalkeeper, happy in his new life in Brittany, far from the fervor of the South.
“To say that I don’t think about it would be lying… I know it’s a return that will be special for me, but everything in its time”. It was last Wednesday. Steve Mandanda was in front of the press at Roazhon Park for the Europa League pre-match conference ahead of Fenerbahçe. Obviously asked about the match this Sunday (3 p.m.) in Marseille, against his club, the goalkeeper will not pour out. Since the start of the season, he has refused numerous interview requests, cultivating his usual discretion, particularly when the subject of OM and his departure is at the heart of the questions.
Faced with a new recovery, Mandanda will still launch: “I came here to Rennes above all with a view to having fun and being on the ground, to be in a place where (he searches for his words) we feels… important”. No resentment to be seen in this sentence but simply a state of affairs. At 37, Steve Mandanda did not see himself starting a season as number 2. Relegated in the hierarchy behind Pau Lopez by Jorge Sampaoli, he could not be satisfied with 20 games like last season, including only 9 in Ligue 1, him the man who will have worn the OM jersey 613 times.
Bourigeaud: “Is he homesick? No, I don’t think so”
Courted with insistence by Stade Rennes for months and in particular in direct contact with Bruno Genesio, Mandanda therefore took the plunge and headed for Brittany after 14 seasons in Marseille. If he wanted consideration, he was served when he landed in Rennes as an indisputable starter of course and even as a locker room leader. A role he takes to heart without forcing his nature. “Steve is quiet strength, describes Benjamin Bourigeaud. He has this stature. He imposes in a locker room. We feel his experience, his experience and it feels good. Is he homesick “No, I don’t think so. He acclimatizes quickly. He’s a joker and participates in the life of the group, but when he speaks, it’s never for nothing”.
Mandanda indeed seems to have found a smile. Witness the celebration after his decisive pass for Flavien Tait in the victory against Auxerre (5-0) last weekend where his teammates came to jump into his arms, with a hilarious Mandanda who at the end of the match lends himself then to the game of selfies with supporters in the stands. “Change after so many years is not easy, but I feel very welcome, he pressed the microphone of RMC Sport in the middle of the week. The partners are great with me, plus they are young. The staff the same and the people in the city are very welcoming so for me it’s a pleasure to be there. I’m really happy.”
He appreciates the calmer and more relaxed living environment
In private, Mandanda admits to enjoying a calmer and more relaxed living environment. Quite a homebody by nature, the caretaker who currently lives in a furnished house and has not yet found the place to live to his liking in the Rennes conurbation has not had much time to visit the town and its surroundings. But in his rare outings, he appreciates being able to walk quietly with calmer, less passionate supporters.
His son also joined him at Rennes, joining the Stade Rennes U14s at the start of the season. He was also a ball boy during the victory against AJA and was able to afford a lap of honor and a clapping in front of the Roazhon Celtic Kop with his dad. For an almost perfect balance, now remains in Mandanda to find where to practice in his new city his other great passion: paddle.
The Velodrome should sing for “Il Fenomeno”
At a time of imminent reunion with OM, how will Mandanda be welcomed by the Vélodrome? His former teammate Pape Gueye cannot imagine anything other than an ovation for the former fan idol. “I’m very happy to see him again, it’s going to make me a little weird to play against him, he said at a press conference on Friday. Personally with Steve, I often talk on the networks or our numbers. I have it congratulated for his assist. I am very close to him, he helped me a lot when I arrived. Steve is Steve, we all know what he has done for this club, the love he had and that he still has for this club. I hope and I know that the fans will welcome him as they should at home”.
Support groups do not think otherwise. According to several echoes coming from the bends of the Velodrome, the song to the glory of Mandanda “Il Fenomeno” should be sung before the match when he comes to warm up and surely at the end of the match because Mandanda will obviously go to greet the groups of supporters before , he assures, to stop in front of the Marseille journalists to perhaps indulge a little more about the end of his love affair with OM.