Frank Kessier swapped Milan for Barcelona this summer and is expected to be one of the Catalans’ more important new signings. The Ivorian international became the #18 African in the history of the Catalan club.
African players at Camp Nou have been of all calibre, giants like Samuel Eto’o and Yaya Toure, but also unrealized talents like Wilfred Captham and Jean-Marie Dongou. However, now a question arises – who was the first representative of Africa to wear the blue-and-red stripe?
His name is Jorge Alberto Mendonza. From Angola. Before moving to Barca, for nine years he defended the colors of another Spanish giant – Atlético (Madrid). His career is intriguing and full of colorful experiences.
And this is his story.
Born in 1938, the attacker briefly played for the youth team of the Portuguese Sporting (Lisbon), and his career began in another local team – Braga. This became a fact in 1956, and two summers later he jumped onto the scene of the Spanish Primera, signing a contract with Deportiva La Coruña. Only a year later, he became a “mattress” and moved to Atlético (Madrid), where, however, an African footprint was already left – in 1948, Larbi ben Barek from Morocco played for the capital city.
The Angolan scored in his debut match against Oviedo, and some of the legends surrounding him say that he even changed his last name. Certain people in Atlético were connected to General Franco’s regime, and due to the general “Hispanization” Mendonza became Mendoza, but then reverted to his original surname.
AS newspaper founder Manuel Sarmiento Birba, who is also an outspoken Atleti supporter, describes Mendonza like this – “An excellent player who acted elegantly and very cleverly. Perfect technique and I can say he’s one of the best I’ve seen in my life. In pure football he had everything, he was almost perfect. But at times he was overwhelmed a lethargy that was taking its toll on his playing and slowing his tempo.”
The African, when he’s not lethargic of course, has a great eye over the game and accurate passing, when he dribbles he’s sharp as a dagger and his shots are the icing on the cake. A true football artist. He helped Atlético win the first Copa del Rey in the club’s history in 1960 (NB – then it was called “Copa del Generalissimo” because of Franco), and in 1965 he scored a historic goal against Real (Madrid).
On March 7 of the year in question, he scored the winning goal against the city rivals, thus ending the Whites’ murderous unbeaten streak of 8 years and 18 days, a feat that remains untouched to this day. A year later, he became a champion with Los Rojiblancos.
After a match against Dinamo (Zagreb) in Europe, the fans are so impressed that they carry him on their hands.
But after almost a decade at Atlético, it’s time for a change and it’s called Barcelona. The deal is good for everyone – the capital city needs money to build their emblematic stadium by the Manzanares River, which years later will be renamed “Vicente Calderon”. And Mendonza’s transfer to Catalonia financed part of the construction.
His spell at Camp Nou was controversial, but he went down in history as the first African footballer to wear the club’s famous kit.
He spent only two years in Barça – between 1967 and 1969, playing 33 matches and scoring 9 goals. He won the Cup of the country once more, and in the championship with him in the composition “los cules” reached the silver once. His short stay in the Catalan capital ended in an absurd and absolutely unfootball way.
In 1968, the club had a new president – Narcis de Carreras, who is an avowed Catholic. And learns that the Angolan pearl of the team is a member of the sect “Jehovah’s Witnesses”.
“Besides being a fervent Catholic, De Carreras was also friends with a great local bishop. For absolutely non-football reasons, more religious ones, he sent me to the reserves. Otherwise, I was well received by the dressing room. Despite everything, I am still on good terms with the club and I like the city,” Mendonza recounted years later.
Barcelona turned out to be the penultimate stop in his career. He said goodbye to Primera after one season in Mallorca, in which he played only 5 games and was signed once. The break-up with the Balearics is also screen-worthy – he has to chase the club president through the streets in a car to get him to pay his dues. He doesn’t want to because Mendonza has been injured for most of the season.
Probably the craziest incident in his career came precisely in Mallorca – he went from door to door as a true representative of “Jehovah’s Witnesses” and during one of his tours he slipped on a staircase and short cruciate ligament on his knee…
After his career ended, Mendonza stayed close to the game. He organized a format unknown at the time – 7 on 7 football, organized a world championship for refugees and became an ideologue of the Association of Professional Footballers in Spain. Not surprising given his career woes, right?
He also moved to France, learned the language and began to study medicine, devoting himself to homeopathy and orthopedics.
“Football 7×7 belongs to me, it is officially patented in my name. I was inspired by watching the boys in France playing in the street. It seemed to me the most suitable option for the development of children. The first football campus for football 7×7 was created by him in Mallorca in the mid-1980s, and talent from his native Angola often came there.
He stays close to the game, organizing several football teams, including an African team that competes in the Tercera Division and plays a Barça team. But they are not well received in Madrid. Mendonza himself tells about this – “Imagine a team of dark-skinned players wearing Barça shirts in the capital!”.
Jorge is currently 83 years old and lives in the Spanish capital. The ideas keep flowing – he wants to create a sport that is a mix of football and basketball. In Atlético he is considered a legend, and in Barcelona he remains in history as the first African.
He is also probably the only player in the world to be kicked out of a club because of his religious views. And he himself thinks that nothing in his life happened without a reason.
“I have been preaching the word of the Lord for fifty years now,” the veteran is emphatic.