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This is a work of fiction written in the style of a Wikipedia page

John Paul Mendes (b. 23 May 1982; d. 14 December 2004) was a novelist, poet, essayist, short story writer, model and professional footballer for Arsenal Football Club and the English national team.

In 2004 he won the FIFA World Player of the Year award for a record fourth successive year, and became only the fourth player to win the Ballon d’Or for European Footballer of the Year three times. In 2005 he was voted the greatest footballer of all time, ahead of Pele and Diego Maradona, in an online poll conducted by FIFA. He is the only player to have scored a hat trick in a World Cup final (2002 v Brazil), a European Championship final (2004 v Portugal) and Champions’ League Final (2003 v AC Milan). He was the youngest player to play (and score) in the English Premiership (aged 15 years 296 days v Manchester United, 14 March 1998), to play (and score) for the senior England team (aged 16 years 0 days in a friendly v Saudi Arabia, 23 May 1998), and the youngest player to appear (and score) in a World Cup finals match (aged 16 years 30 days v Romania, 22 June 1998). In 2001 he became the youngest-ever recipient of FIFA’s World Player of the Year Award, aged 19, for helping Arsenal to win the Premier League and European Cup, and England to secure qualification for the 2002 FIFA World Cup, with a series of outstanding performances.

Mendes usually played as a left-winger, or in the ‘playmaker’ position, although such was his talent that he could perform anywhere required. Universally praised for his touch, technique, vision, athleticism, style, discipline, leadership and work ethic, he possessed superlative dribbling, passing and finishing skills, and was a strategist who dictated the way his teams played. In 2003 his club manager, Arsène Wenger, described Mendes as possessing ‘all the best qualities of Pele, Maradona, Cruyff, Platini and Beckanbauer, but simplified, refined and focused on beautiful goals.’

In senior games for Arsenal and England he scored 428 goals in 441 games (including Charity Shield, European Super Cup and Intercontinental Cup games, and England friendlies) with a goals-to-games ratio of 0.971:1, exceeding that of Pelé (0.939:1; 1,280 goals in 1,363 appearances). In the 2003/04 season, in which Arsenal played out the whole term unbeaten in all competitions, Mendes set a British and UEFA record with the highest number of goals scored by an individual player in a season in competitive club games, with 73 in 65 (including Charity Shield, European Super Cup and Intercontinental Cup) games. He holds the record for most Champions’ League goals (78 in 70 games) and is the all-time highest goalscorer for the English national team (77 in 62 games, including international friendlies). A prolific scorer of classic goals, he is the only player to be awarded Goal of the Season by BBC’s Match of the Day three times (1998, 2001, 2004), by public vote, and won Goal of the Tournament for the 1998 and 2002 World Cups, the 2000 and 2004 European Championships, and the 1999, 2002 and 2003 UEFA Champions’ League campaigns. He was awarded Player of the Tournament at the 2000 European Championship (shared with Zinedine Zidane of France), the 2002 FIFA World Cup and the 2004 European Championship, and Most Valuable Player in the UEFA Champions’ League Awards of 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004. In addition, he won the Professional Footballer’s Association award for Player of the Year in 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2004, and the Football Writer’s Player of the Year Award in 2000, 2002 and 2004. In 2001, 2002 and 2004 he was awarded BBC Sports Personality of the Year. By means of his beauty, exceptional talent, radiant personality, intelligence and committed humanitarianism, John Paul Mendes is credited with changing the face of football, inspiring comprehensive reform of the sport’s attitudes to race and homosexuality, whilst greatly raising the standards by which the purist’s game is both played and appreciated. His footballing career began when he signed his first professional contract with Arsenal, making his first-team debut against Manchester United at Old Trafford in 1998, aged 15. During his time, Arsenal won the Premier League title five times, the FA Cup four times and the UEFA Champions’ League four times in a row. He made his international debut for England on 23 May 1998, helping them to win the World Cup in 2002 and the European Championship in 2004. His career coincided with the most successful periods in the history of both Arsenal and England.

Before and during his glorious, brief career, Mendes was also a prolific and acclaimed writer. He published his first short story in a school newsletter at the age of seven, and his first novel, Jehovah’s Blood, at fifteen. In January 2000 he published his second book Anatomy of a Player, a series of essays on the development of a multidisciplinary artist, to great acclaim. In 2005 he was posthumously awarded the Man Booker Prize for his second novel, This Or Death. Owing to the high quality, scope and powers of perception common to his works, unprecedented at his age, some contemporary critics even called into question whether he wrote his works himself at all, but all doubts as to his integrity were dismissed after his death when, even apart from his three published books and known short stories, essays and poetry, his journals (dating back to 1988) and computer hard-drives were discovered to comprise in excess of some five million unpublished words.

The world was shocked by the sudden death of John Paul Mendes, of a cerebral aneurysm, leading to a fatal haemorrhage, during the night/early morning of 14 December 2004, after complaining of a headache. He was just 22 years old. The following week passed with an open, unreserved display of public mourning, reminiscent of that following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997. His parents Philip and Ava Mendes, twin sisters Olivia and Rose, and younger brother Marcel survive him. He was single and had no children.

Childhood and early life

Mendes was born at Wordsley Hospital, Dudley, in the West Midlands region of England. He was the firstborn of Philip Barrington Mendes (b. Birmingham, 13 December 1956), a former haulage driver, and Ava Lorraine Mendes née King (b. Dudley 18 May 1961). He was named after the then Pope who was touring Britain at the time, although after his parents married in 1983, they raised John Paul as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He was an exceptionally forward child, and his family claim he was able to read and write well by the age of four. It was also at this age that he saw on TV Diego Maradona score his famous individual goal against England during the 1986 World Cup – Ava Mendes, writing in her 2008 memoir Through a Mother’s Eyes, remembers him to be ‘the only person in the room to cheer.’

John Paul attended Harvills Hawthorn Primary School in West Bromwich where he caught the eye of his deputy-headmaster, Nicholas Wall-Hunter, when playing alone with a small red ball in the school playground, dribbling the ball from one end of the pitch to the other and back without losing control of the ball or bumping into anyone. Knowing of him already as a highly precocious and gregarious pupil, Wall-Hunter made it possible for Mendes to have practice sessions with the junior school team – no mean feat as the Mendes family’s religious beliefs precluded John Paul from engaging in after-school activities – and soon he was playing for the junior-school team as its youngest member, a seven year-old amongst and against ten and eleven year-olds. The brother-in-law of his father, Clyde Pemberton-Wells, a childless architect, saw himself as being in an ideal position to help develop John Paul’s talent, and began taking him to regular Saturday football practice at a local club in Wolverhampton, whilst giving him informal home exposure to subjects as diverse as classical music, architecture, classic literature, art history, French and the ecological sciences, supplementing the theological education Mendes also received from Jehovah’s Witnesses. He furthermore encouraged John Paul to write, and in September 1989 his 1,000-word short story Being Four – the account of a cosseted ‘only’ child who has to face the ‘sudden’ birth of twins into his family – was published in the school newsletter, much to his parents’ embarrassment. Nevertheless, it was rapturously praised for its insight, authenticity and style, particularly from the pen of a seven year-old. His uncle and Nicholas Wall-Hunter further encouraged him, and as he grew up, Mendes frequently cited both men amongst his most important early influences. Otherwise, John Paul’s upbringing was very strict, setting the general tone of his seminal 1997 debut novel Jehovah’s Blood.

In 1995 Pemberton-Wells, upon separation from his wife and John Paul’s aunt, moved to London to set up his own architectural firm, PWA. He offered to take John Paul with him to help make the most of his education and considerable natural abilities. Initially his parents dismissed the idea, but at thirteen, Mendes, who had learned that Manchester United, Liverpool and Aston Villa were ready to sign him, was already becoming single-minded. He later wrote in a journal that even at this time, it was clear to him that a lot of money could be made in football, enough to provide for himself, his family and his education, such that after football, he could concentrate on writing without concern for finance. In July 1995 he was baptized by immersion at the International Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses at Villa Park Stadium in Birmingham, before 23,000 delegates. By taking this step he hoped to prove to his parents that he was willing to be held accountable for his own actions, and that he could be trusted to go to London with his uncle and join a professional football team, without ‘going off the rails’. Attendees on that Saturday afternoon at Villa Park included Aston Villa’s then-chairman Doug Ellis, who invited Mendes and his father up to the boardroom to congratulate him and offer him a schoolboy contract. Mendes, a West Bromwich Albion fan who felt he had condescended enough even to get baptised at Villa Park, turned it down. However, in December 1996, he moved to London to live with Pemberton-Wells in his Islington home before taking and passing a trial with Arsenal, all explicitly against his parents’ wishes.

The years 1996/97

Mendes signed for Arsenal on apprenticeship terms on 4 December 1996, this initial contract stipulating that Mendes receive sufficient personal tuition such that he be ready to take at least five GCSE exams in the summer of 1997. On trialling the player, Arsenal coach Arsène Wenger was immediately impressed, not just by Mendes’ obvious natural skill and athleticism, but by his strength and maturity, and believed him to be virtually ready to play football at the highest level, even at the age of fourteen. Mendes later revealed he had chosen Arsenal based on the recommendation of Pemberton-Wells, a keen football pundit who had known of Wenger’s reputation for developing young players such as George Weah whilst at AS Monaco, and saw the cerebral Frenchman as the perfect match for his precocious nephew. Wenger had, immediately upon taking charge of Arsenal, taken decisive steps to supplant its drinking and gambling culture with one of a sense of professionalism scarcely seen in English football. Moreover, the club had recently signed one of Pemberton-Wells’ favourite players, Dennis Bergkamp, whom he was equally keen to see Mendes learn from.

Almost immediately upon going absent without leave from the family home, Philip and Ava Mendes contacted police, who, upon making contact with Mendes and Pemberton-Wells in London, were satisfied that the youngster was mature enough to have made his decision to leave the family home to live with a close relative. The story of the writer-cum-footballer who had disobeyed his devoutly religious parents to run away from home and sign for Arsenal made national news, but Mendes kept his head down and in January 1997 made his debut for the Gunners in the FA Youth Cup, scoring twice and assisting two other goals as they beat fierce rivals Tottenham 5-1. Appraising the performance, the discerning Wenger wasted little time in promoting Mendes to train with the first team, amongst such players as Bergkamp, already a world star, Patrick Vieira, Ian Wright, David Platt, Tony Adams, and Nicolas Anelka. Even so, Mendes featured in every match of Arsenal’s FA Youth Cup campaign, contributing eleven goals and nine assists. Arsenal beat West Ham United 4-1 at Loftus Road in the final, Mendes scoring twice.

Subsequently, Mendes was selected to travel with the Under-17 England team to Egypt for that summer’s World Championships, and was initially singled out, along with the likes of his England team-mate Michael Owen and Brazil’s Ronaldinho Gaucho, as a potential star of the tournament. Despite being the youngest player on show, Mendes gave a consistent display of leadership, technique, vision, passing and finishing outstanding at that level, prompting enquiries of his availability from the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United and Juventus. Time outside of training and matches was strictly confined to private tuition and revision for the remaining GCSE exams Wenger was keen to see Mendes take on returning to London after the tournament, having already sat papers for English and English Literature before flying out. Nevertheless, Mendes again scored twice as England beat Brazil 4-3 in the final, and was awarded Player of the Tournament and the Golden Boot for his seven goals. Real Madrid quickly offered £5m compensation to Arsenal for his transfer, but neither player nor club were interested. For the next seven years, Mendes and Wenger would be forced to continually parry the inexhaustible advances of Real Madrid, who saw it as their right to have the best talent on their own books. Barcelona and former England manager Sir Bobby Robson, commentating for Sky Sports at the tournament, admitted that the Catalan club had already tried to sign Mendes, and despite having the likes of Hristo Stoichkov, Luis Figo and twice World Player of the Year Ronaldo on his books, predicted that Mendes could become ‘the greatest player in the world. He is the most exciting young player I have ever seen, and he’s English! He combines English discipline, fight and consistency with the flair, and confidence, of someone messing about on a beach in Brazil.’

The years 1997/98

Mendes returned from Egypt a star, as the 1997 Under-17 World Cup was the first title of any sort England had won since the 1982 Under-21 European Championships. Moreover, he appeared to be the most talented and exciting young English player to emerge at least since Paul Gascoigne, whose best years were now behind him. Foreseeing the attention their protégé would receive, Wenger and Pemberton-Wells entered into a pact to protect the youngster from all sides; one of their tactics was to allow only one hour’s supervised press interviews at Arsenal’s Colney training ground in the week after his return from Egypt. When not training, Mendes kept his head down in his books; in the second week of August he took GCSE exams in Mathematics, French, Physical Education, History, Biology and Chemistry, achieving four A* and four A-grades, a year earlier than most children. Exploiting a loophole in Premier League legislation, Mendes signed his first professional contract on 31 August, having completed his secondary education. Prior to this, during a ten-day holiday in Tuscany, Italy, Mendes had started and completed his first novel Jehovah’s Blood, the unexpected account of a melancholy teenage boy dealing with religious oppression and suppressed sexuality that was immediately accepted for publication by Faber, who would go on to print the first editions of all subsequent Mendes works. It was fast-tracked for release in December 1997 and won universal critical acclaim, making the shortlist for the Guardian First Book Award.

Therein, Mendes resumed his training programme at Arsenal with serious intent, appearing regularly for the reserves; by March 1998 he was judged fit and ready for first-team Premiership football. He was an unused substitute for two Premier League matches and for the FA Cup Quarter-Final replay at West Ham, but on 14 March, Mendes finally made his debut as a substitute against Manchester United at Old Trafford, becoming the youngest player ever to feature in a professional English league game, beating the record set by Charlton defender Paul Konchesky earlier in the same season, by 94 days. His impact was immediate and devastating, as with his first touch he turned through the legs of Phil Neville to slalom down the centre of the pitch before splitting United’s defence with a pass for the onrushing Dennis Bergkamp, who swept home first time. He then dribbled at pace to the left by-line before simultaneously pirouetting and flicking up the ball, to volley a cross for Patrick Vieira to head in. He completed a dream debut by scoring the third himself, exchanging passes with Bergkamp on the edge of the box before somehow chipping the ball on the turn over the sliding Henning Berg to volley cleanly past Peter Schmeichel. Viewers of the BBC’s Match of the Day voted it Goal of the Season; meanwhile Dutch winger Marc Overmars added a fourth. Manchester United had been twelve points clear of Arsenal at the top of the Premiership on 1 March 1998 although Arsenal had three games in hand; this incredible 4-1 victory over United at Old Trafford turned the entire season in Arsenal’s favour.

‘The boy certainly looks to be a terrific player, and is emerging at the right time for England.’

Manchester United’s assistant manager Steve McClaren refers to John Paul Mendes, after his match-winning debut against United on March 14, 1998. Manager Alex Ferguson, who had tried to sign Mendes earlier in the season, declined to comment.

By the end of the season, in which Arsenal won their first League and Cup ‘double’ since 1971, Mendes had made ten appearances, the requisite amount for a first Premier League winner’s medal, and scored six goals, including one in the FA Cup Final victory against Newcastle United. England manager Glenn Hoddle, a former charge of Wenger’s during their time at AS Monaco, selected him for the team to travel to France for the 1998 FIFA World Cup, bringing him on as a substitute in the warm-up match against Saudi Arabia on his 16th birthday at Wembley, to become the youngest-ever England cap. Mendes promptly scored the second-fastest hat-trick in England’s history, taking just seven minutes, twenty-nine seconds, exactly the duration of the New Order hit ‘Blue Monday’ – the resulting video, ‘The Blue Monday Hat-Trick’, in which the opening drum beat begins the moment Mendes’ first goal, a left-foot finish from ten metres, hits the back of the net, remains an enduring YouTube hit. In celebration of this first goal he lifted his shirt to reveal a vest on which were printed the words ‘4 FASH’, in tribute to the late Justin Fashanu, who had died three weeks previous.

Such talented young players as Mendes, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Michael Owen gave the English press and public great hope for a successful World Cup campaign, and although the Arsenal forward was left on the bench for England’s comfortable 2-0 opening win over Tunisia, coach Glenn Hoddle knew exactly whom to gamble upon when England found themselves 2-1 down with three minutes’ injury-time remaining in the second match against Romania. True to form, as England pressed for a last-gasp equaliser Mendes scored one of the great World Cup goals as he volleyed back the Romanian goalkeeper’s punch from twenty-five yards to rescue a Group G point for England, thereby announcing himself on the World scene in the same devastating fashion as he had the Premiership just three months earlier. He also came on as a late substitute to help England close out a stylish 2-0 win against Colombia. England then crashed out of the World Cup on penalties to Argentina in the next round, although Mendes, who came on as an extra-time substitute for Darren Anderton, set up Alan Shearer for a goal that was incorrectly ruled offside by Danish referee Kim Milton Nielsen’s assistant. He then fed Michael Owen after an exhilarating dribble, but the Liverpool striker’s scuffed shot was saved. Nevertheless the sixteen-year-old John Paul Mendes had, by his individual contribution to England’s cause and to the World Cup itself, recalled the Pele of 1958.

The controversy surrounding Jehovah’s Blood

In December 1997, Mendes’ debut novel Jehovah’s Blood was published to wide acclaim. It told the story of a fifteen year-old orphan raised in an institution, who had fallen in love with, and thus disoriented and alienated, the elder who had abused him from the age of nine, leading the young man to commit suicide. Jehovah’s Blood, Mendes claimed, was written in the Tuscan village of Bagnena during a ten-day holiday he had taken there in August 1997 with Clyde Pemberton-Wells and his then-girlfriend Sarah Bradshaw. Mendes later claimed he had written the novel in the light of his expulsion from the community of Jehovah’s Witnesses due to his suspected homosexuality. It was praised as a fine novel in its own right, regardless of the age of its author, and was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award.

Moreover, the novel created a public sensation, a novelty; never before had Britain seen such an exciting young sportsman divide his time so effectively with another creative art. Whereas the tabloid press preoccupied itself with the unexpected and frequently explicit homosexual, paedophilic themes of the novel and its precarious leanings towards obscenity, especially as Mendes was just fifteen when he wrote it, the more discerning media concentrated on its proof of a fantastic young talent, that would require great care and attention to develop to its potential.

Nevertheless some football fans, influenced by the tabloid press, were put on the defensive, and although Mendes chose never to be so ‘vulgar’ as to explicitly come out as gay, he would therein experience a dimension of abuse that would constantly test his mental and emotional strength. The only precedent was that of former Nottingham Forest and England striker Justin Fashanu, who, after coming out as gay, saw his career quickly disintegrate, culminating in his contemporaneous suicide on 2 May 1998. These events formed the backdrop of Mendes’ emergence for Arsenal and his successful individual 1998 World Cup display, and although it seemed that wherever he went sections of the crowd, albeit small, would shout derogatory slogans, Mendes gained further praise by always acquitting himself with perfect grace, choosing hard work, consistent play and beautiful goals over retaliation. Even the newly elected Labour government idolised him as the ‘epitome’ of their ‘values’, although Mendes loathed to allow himself to be used, as he once put it, as ‘Blair’s little golly’. Nevertheless, he was already becoming such a star as to feature on the August 1998 covers of GQ (becoming its youngest-ever cover star) and World Soccer Magazine, who ran the headline ‘Mendes – A Superstar Is Born’. A third magazine, i-D, featured the sixteen year-old Mendes on its September 1998 cover. Shot by Juergen Teller, Mendes was presented sultrily, his sculpted, oiled physique clad only in brief black shorts and jewellery, with great emphasis put on his lips, crotch and backside, under the headline ‘Man-Boy Plays Ball’. This overtly sexualised spread, redolent of gay porn, elicited fevered debate but simultaneously launched Mendes as one of the greatest sex icons of his era.

The years 1998-2002

In the summer of 1998, Arsenal told Barcelona to forget about Mendes, who signed an improved five-year contract worth £500,000 per year; Barcelona consoled themselves by signing Arsenal’s Marc Overmars and Emmanuel Petit for a combined £25million. Despite becoming subject to homophobic chanting from small sections of the crowd in various away games, Mendes settled instantly into life as a fully-fledged Premiership player, installing himself as the fulcrum of Arsenal’s attack during the next season, scoring 17 Premier League goals and assisting 21. Despite this, Arsenal lost the Premier League title to Manchester United (albeit by a solitary point), who won the unprecedented treble of league, cup and Champions’ League titles – Arsenal reached the last four of both cups, with Mendes, even at this early stage, developing a particular affinity for the Champions’ League. The Professional Footballer’s Association voted Mendes Young Player of the Year for 1999. Once again, Real Madrid made an offer for him, this time of £30million, but Wenger, who insisted that Mendes was still at an early stage in his education, and that the best place for him to learn was at Highbury, turned it down, having already lost one teenage star to them in the form of Nicolas Anelka.

For the first half of 1999 Mendes had been finishing his second book, this time a work of non-fiction titled Anatomy of a Player. It comprised a series of twenty-three short essays on such subjects as art, literature, food and football, and was praised for its quality prose, originality, depth of analysis and wit. It was published by Faber on 6 January 2000, and proved a pleasing departure from Jehovah’s Blood, with the same largely accessible style but much less controversial subject matter. It went on to sell more than 500,000 copies in the UK alone, and essays taken from the book had appeared in i-D, Granta and French journal Le Figaro. His growing literary reputation attracted the friendships, maintained mostly through email correspondence and the Paris salon of his friend Pierre de Montgiraud, of amongst others, Umberto Eco, Noam Chomsky, JK Rowling, Alain de Botton, Edmund White, Nicolas Bourriaud, Hélène Cixous and Donatus Von Hohenzollern; one of his greatest early advocates was the novelist and poet, and former deputy of the Times Literary Supplement, Alan Hollinghurst.

On the pitch, Mendes had the best season of his career thus far, emerging as one of the world’s finest players, scoring a staggering 52 goals in 61 games in all competitions as Arsenal won their second domestic League and Cup Double under Arsène Wenger, this time beating Manchester United by a solitary league point. In addition, Arsenal beat Galatasaray to win the UEFA Cup, their first European trophy since the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1994. Individually, Mendes achieved the rare feat of being voted PFA Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year. Moreover, the British press nominated him Football Writers’ Player of the Year, arguably the most prestigious of the domestic individual accolades. He also consolidated his status as England’s most important player, emerging as the top scorer in qualifying with eleven goals as England booked their place in Holland and Belgium for the 2000 European Championships. The now eighteen year-old Mendes drove England through to the final with four goals and six assists, and despite scoring twice in the final, England lost on penalties to France after a 2-2 draw. Nevertheless, once again Mendes emerged from an international tournament as the toast of the football world. Indeed France midfielder Zinedine Zidane, with whom he would share the award for Player of the Tournament and become firm friends, famously referred to him as ‘the perfect player’. Prospective presidents of Real Madrid and Barcelona promised to deliver Wenger and Mendes if elected. After Euro 2000 his transfer value had rocketed to in excess of £60million, such that very few teams could afford him even if Arsenal did decide to sell. In 2000 he was shortlisted for FIFA World Player of the Year and the Ballon d’Or for European Footballer of the Year, finishing a close runner-up to Juventus and France midfielder Zinedine Zidane, then at the height of his powers, in both reckonings. Mendes praised the French midfielder as ‘one of the world’s greatest living artists’.

Mendes began 2001 by receiving an OBE from The Queen in her New Year’s Honours list, as had been widely speculated in the media. Arsenal won the Premier League title for the third time under Wenger and their first ever European Cup, beating German champions Bayern Munich 3-1 in the final, having beaten Deportivo La Coruna, Inter Milan and Manchester United en route. Mendes was instrumental to both successes, scoring 51 goals in all competitions, including a brace in the European Cup final, both individual efforts coming off the left flank. He was again voted PFA Player of the Year, and was awarded Goal of the season by Match of the Day for an effort against Spurs in April in which, thirty metres from goal, he flicked up a short pass from Patrick Vieira into space and volleyed the teed ball over goalkeeper Neil Sullivan and into the net. Real Madrid continued to court him and Zinedine Zidane as ‘the final pieces of the jigsaw’; the latter completed a €73million move, but Mendes, despite an £80million offer, which would also have made him the highest-paid footballer in the world, accepted instead an improved contract offer from Arsenal, rejecting the chance to play with Zidane.

‘Why would I want to leave? I have everything I need here. I live frugally so I don’t need all that money. I have a manager who cares for my well-being and education, both cultural and footballing. I play with Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires and Kanu, for a club that has just won the Premiership and Champions’ League. I have the beautiful Highbury, and the Arsenal fans. And I have London.’

John Paul Mendes, upon rejecting Real Madrid in 2001.

On 1 September 2001 England travelled to Munich to face Germany for a crucial World Cup qualifying match. England started with a fully-fit squad, including Mendes, David Beckham, Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes and Emile Heskey as a front six. Carsten Jancker put Germany ahead after just six minutes, but then Mendes took complete control of the match, producing a masterclass of skill, vision and patience to set up three goals as England recorded a historic 5-1 win. He almost scored himself when, picking up the ball thirty metres from goal surrounded by four defenders, he flicked the ball up close to his body and with balletic movement, volleyed against the frame of the goal. David Beckham assisted the other two goals; England never lost when Mendes and Beckham both started, or indeed, when Mendes and Gerrard both started.

This performance, hailed by many as one of the greatest ever seen by a player in an England shirt, catapulted Mendes into a miraculous period. He was awarded the FIFA World Player of the Year in December 2001, becoming its youngest recipient at the age of 19, also the first English player and representative of the Premier League to win the award. He was also recognised as the best player in Europe with the Ballon d’Or. In the same week he was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year. All these accolades inspired him to help Arsenal win their third consecutive league title with a record points haul (97), the FA Cup with a 4-0 final victory over Chelsea, and a second European Cup. Arsenal thereby became the first team to retain the European Cup since AC Milan in 1989/90, and did so by means of victories over Barcelona in the quarter-finals (Mendes scoring a hat-trick at Camp Nou), Juventus in the semis (Mendes scoring a first-half hat-trick at the Stadio delle Alpi), and Real Madrid – boasting the likes of Zidane, Luis Figo, Raul and Roberto Carlos in their line-up – in the final, which Arsenal won 5-2 courtesy of a brace each for Mendes and Thierry Henry, and one for Patrick Vieira. This match is regarded by many to be one of the greatest ever finals, and apart from the dubious penalty decision from which Madrid took the lead through Raul, all the goals, including stunning volleys by Henry and Zidane and two solo efforts by Mendes, were of breathtaking quality.

England fans were delirious with excitement at the prospect of the world’s greatest player, in such history-making form, spearheading their campaign for the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, under coach Sven-Goran Eriksson. Despite the injury to Steven Gerrard that ruled him out of the tournament, and that to David Beckham that had endangered his participation, this represented England’s first real chance of winning the cup since 1966. However, it was Brazil and France who started the tournament as favourites, boasting between them such talents as Zidane, Henry, Vieira, Pires, Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and Roberto Carlos, as the world football media lay down the challenge for Mendes to prove that, having only just turned twenty, he could carry the expectation of an entire nation and lead them to glory. Indeed, England started in a difficult group with Sweden, Argentina and Nigeria, but with Mendes at the centre of everything they did in defence and attack, won all three matches, scoring eight goals and conceding just one. The second-round game against Denmark finished 4-0 to England; France were already out of the tournament. Under huge pressure from the media to advance, England faced Italy in the quarter-finals, Mendes scoring a hat-trick in a superb 4-1 victory. Progressing to the semi-finals at least represented their best performance in a World Cup since 1990, when they achieved a similar feat before losing to West Germany. Indeed Germany, whom England had thrashed 5-1 less than a year earlier, lay in wait, but Mendes again produced a sublime display to ease England to a 2-0 victory against a vastly improved defence, scoring the second after laying on the opener for Michael Owen. Subsequently England reached their first World Cup Final since 1966 and their second international final in succession, to face Brazil, the four-time winners.

England started the Tokyo match superbly, Mendes releasing Owen to score the thirteenth-minute opener before volleying home a Beckham cross in a similar fashion to his finishes against Barcelona and Juventus in the Champions’ League several months previous. Just minutes later, a sensational individual Mendes goal comprising a track-back, a tackle, a burst into space and a seventy-metre high-speed dribble, that recalled Maradona’s effort against England in 1986, put England 3-0 up. Rivaldo pulled one back before half time but Mendes scored again late in the game to seal the World Cup for England by a 4-2 scoreline. In doing so he became the first player to score a hat-trick in a World Cup Final since England’s Geoff Hurst in 1966, and only the fourth player to score two hat-tricks in the same World Cup. He finished the tournament with eleven goals – earning him the Golden Boot as top scorer – and eight assists, and was voted unanimously by FIFA as Player of the Tournament. His stunning individual effort against Brazil was voted Goal of the Tournament, and is remembered as one of the greatest goals of all time.

‘He has added his name to the list of players who have won the World Cup for their country, in the company of Pelé, Maradona and Zidane. But he is maybe the best of all.'

FIFA president Sepp Blatter on Mendes’ World Cup performance

‘We had Pelé’s World Cup in 1970, Maradona’s World Cup in ‘86, and Zidane’s World Cup in ‘98. You could say we had Cruyff’s World Cup in ‘74, but Holland were unlucky. Whatever, the 2002 World Cup belonged to John Paul Mendes… [On being asked if Mendes is the world’s greatest ever player] Well I’ve never seen anyone like him. There are players who have special qualities, but no one I’ve seen who just has it all, not like that. You can’t compare him to Pelé as he played so long ago, but he’s got to be the best we’ve seen since… The first goal was amazing but the second was just the best goal I’ve ever seen… the timing, skill, pace, vision, the clinical finish – no one else in the history of football could’ve done that, to such perfection.’

BBC Match of the Day pundit Alan Hansen, reviewing Mendes’ World Cup-winning performance

‘Those goals should be in the Tate Modern, in a room of their own, on a loop, forever.'

Turner Prize-winning artist Damien Hirst on John Paul Mendes’ World Cup Final hat-trick against Brazil

The years 2002-04

Mendes returned to England from Japan as arguably the most celebrated player in the history of English football, for the 1966 winners had lacked a player in his mould. He was congratulated by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh over a royal lunch, and treated to dinner with Tony and Cherie Blair at Downing Street. He was given the freedom of the town of Dudley, his place of birth and was invited into all of the most fashionable circles. Privately, however, the second half of 2002 proved to be a difficult period for Mendes to negotiate. His journals from this time reveal a disturbance over his global fame, and the ‘almost Messianic’ status he felt was unsustainable on his part. Moreover, he was profoundly affected by the death of his maternal grandfather Alfonso King in November, after a year-long battle against prostate cancer that had been kept secret from Mendes by his family, in fear of affecting his form coming into the World Cup. Of the event, Mendes later wrote that at his aunt’s wedding in August 2002, he could see that his ‘granddad wasn’t looking too well. He’d suffered from diabetes for as long as I could remember, and as we never spoke much, I just put it down to that. I didn’t know that he had cancer. When I found out he was dying, I was mortified. I’m sure if I’d known I could have helped him in some way.’ The nature of his grandfather’s decline was made known to Mendes only during a telephone call made to his father on 7 November; by the 9th, Mr King had died, albeit suddenly. This exclusive collusion on the part of his family caused Mendes much distress, and could have compounded the chasm between them that had opened up when Mendes originally departed for London in 1996, becoming the first member of a large and close-knit family to leave the proximity, although he had maintained correspondence and had regularly sent them money. Prior to his grandfather’s death, Mendes had largely rebuilt his relationship with his parents after, as he put it, ‘disobeying them, betraying their trust, and humiliating them within their religious community by means of my remorseless, egocentric drive to become myself’, and although the circumstances of his grandfather’s death had reopened old wounds, such that Mendes momentarily resigned himself to the possibility of living the rest of his life estranged from his family if necessary, he eventually came to understand their decision to try to protect him. The death of his grandfather was the first time that Mendes had ever experienced personal bereavement, and his high-profile status, which he often found tenuous, led him to draw up a provisional will in the early months of 2003, in which he named Pemberton-Wells as chief executor, with his close friend and literary editor Mia Melia taking over duties should Pemberton-Wells die before either Mendes or Melia.

At the same time, and perhaps as a subsequence, Mendes, who had always maintained a controlled, corporate media profile in parallel with those of comparable global sports stars such as Michael Jordan, Roger Federer and Tiger Woods, shielded by the continued ‘moral patronage’ of Clyde Pemberton-Wells, began to show a more ‘real’ side to himself, giving TV interviews to the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Miquita Oliver, Jonathan Ross and Alan Yentob, and inviting Channel 4 to his north London home to film a revealing one-off documentary, ‘At Home With John Paul Mendes’, which received the then-highest ratings in the channel’s 20-year history. In it Mendes demonstrated his daily routine of waking up at 5.30am to go for a twenty-minute jog on Hampstead Heath, before returning home for a hatha yoga and meditation session, a fruit breakfast, and two-hour writing spell – in which he claimed to be able to write up to 10,000 words – all before cycling to Arsenal’s training ground in Hertfordshire, trailed by his valet and a bodyguard. Mendes had by this time a long list of sponsors and endorsement contracts, and after appearing in his first advert for Prada in 1998, was now to be seen in simultaneous campaigns for elite labels Gucci (as a scantily-clad New York go-go-boy) and Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche (as a decadent French poet), both overseen by Mendes’ friend – and rumoured sometime lover – Tom Ford, with Russian supermodel Natalia Vodianova playing corresponding female roles. Mendes’ other sponsors and patrons included Apple, BMW, Chanel, EA Games, L’Oréal, Coca Cola, Nike, TAG Heuer and Tate.

However, the increased media exposure and intrusion in the wake of the 2002 World Cup combined poorly with Mendes’ need for introversion and privacy, and to write, to the perceptible detriment of his form on the football pitch. He still managed to score 50 goals in all competitions for Arsenal, helping them to win the European Cup for the third successive year, but they lost the Premier League title race to Manchester United in the penultimate game of the season after Mendes, who had been complaining of headaches, missed the 3-2 home defeat to Leeds United. Mendes recovered to score a ‘perfect’ Champions’ League Final hat-trick against AC Milan in Glasgow, with a left-foot free-kick, a right-foot volley and a header, and scored twice as Arsenal retained the FA Cup, but despite the undiminished number of goals and assists, critics agreed that some of the ‘magic’ of the first half of 2002, up to the end of the World Cup, was missing. The inexorable rise of John Paul Mendes to the very pinnacle of world sport had been achieved by the age of just twenty; it therefore remained to be seen whether this level could be sustained for the rest of his career, with only himself to be judged against.

The Invincibles

In June 2003 Mendes travelled with the England squad, as the 2002 World Cup Winners, to France for the 2003 FIFA Confederations Cup. France, Cameroon, Colombia, Japan, New Zealand, Brazil and the United States completed the line-up, but the tournament was overshadowed by the tragic death of Manchester City and Cameroon midfielder Marc-Vivien Foé, of heart failure, during the semi-final against France.

The Final, dedicated to Foé and played in a sombre key, nevertheless provided England with the opportunity for revenge against opponents France, as the last time the teams had met was in the Euro 2000 Final, with France winning on penalties. Arsenal forwards Mendes and Thierry Henry scored the goals as the subdued match ended 1-1 after extra-time; France retained the trophy via a penalty shootout. Henry finished as the tournament’s top scorer and player, dedicating his accolades to Foé, an old friend of his. The Confederations Cup would prove the sole major trophy John Paul Mendes failed to win.

After the tournament Mendes stayed in France and invited his family to fly with him to Corsica. While waiting for them in Marseille, his assistant received a call from a representative of new Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, requesting his company aboard the Russian’s yacht in St. Tropez. Mendes immediately called Arsène Wenger to explain the situation before it could even occur, and with permission, accepted the invitation. As he’d expected, Abramovich ‘offered the world’, as he put it in his journal, but Mendes politely declined, stating that he was happy at Arsenal and had no plans to leave, either for money or football, and hoped the symbolic gift of a 1945 Bordeaux would ease his disappointment. Photographs of the pair chatting topless over cocktails in the Mediterranean sun made the front and rear pages of virtually every newspaper in western Europe; The Times referred to the scenes, redolent of those of Princess Diana and Dodi al Fayed in the same resort in 1997, as ‘an alliance between the two most powerful men in football’. Others concentrated on the bid Chelsea had supposedly made Arsenal for his transfer, with figures ranging from £90-140million – the latter figure matching what Abramovich had paid for the entire club. Speculation continued as to what Mendes would gain from the transfer, one paper mooting a £25million signing-on fee, a basic wage of £250,000 per week that would rise by 25% each year of his five-year deal, and bonuses amounting to £10,000 for every goal scored and £1million for every trophy Chelsea won. That would mean that if Mendes and Chelsea had as successful a season as Mendes and Arsenal did in 2003-04 in the final year of his prospective contract, Mendes would pocket, before tax, a basic salary of approximately £39.5million, even before sponsorship deals. Having seen these reports, Real Madrid offered to somehow ‘match’ Chelsea’s offer, but Mendes returned from his holiday to Arsenal and signed a contract extension that would take him up to 2009, a move that some critics derided, accusing Mendes of manipulating Real Madrid and Chelsea on Abramovich’s boat in order to squeeze more money out of Arsenal, whose wage policy was notoriously conservative.

However, Mendes would later credit the break in Corsica, and the serene time spent with his family in quietude, enclosed by high security, for his unprecedented form in the 2003-04 season, after which Arsenal would forever be known as ‘The Invincibles’.

After beating Manchester United in the curtain-opener, the Charity Shield, Arsenal began the Premiership season as bookies’ favourites and duly set the record for the best-ever start to a top-flight season, with fourteen consecutive victories. By Christmas they were already eleven points clear of nearest challengers Chelsea, and travelled to Japan to contest their third consecutive Intercontinental Cup – played between the European and South American club champions – defeating Argentina’s Boca Juniors 3-1, Mendes scoring twice. Back in Europe Arsenal had more to celebrate, with Mendes scooping his third consecutive FIFA World Player of the Year award and Thierry Henry his first Ballon d’Or, the teammates and friends finishing runner-up to each other in both awards. Mendes had also captained Arsenal for the first time, leading out young players such as Cesc Fabregas, Robin Van Persie and Jose Antonio Reyes to gain experience in the League Cup, then known as the Worthington Cup. In February, the young Gunners denied Middlesbrough their first-ever trophy, winning the League Cup Final 3-1, as Mendes lifted his first trophy as captain. Arsenal’s most testing period of the season came between mid-March and mid-April, with a series of games in quick succession against top sides both at home and abroad desperate to end their dominance. They faced, for instance, nearest domestic challengers Chelsea – over whom they held a fifteen-point league lead – four times, over two legs in the quarter-finals of the Champions’ League, in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup (away) and in the Premiership itself (away). The first match of this four-part series was in the Champions’ League at Stamford Bridge, with Arsenal winning 3-1 (Mendes one goal). Four days later, Chelsea again hosted Arsenal in the FA Cup – Arsenal won 4-2 (Mendes two goals). Three days later came the return-leg in the Champions’ League, which Arsenal again won 4-2 (Mendes four goals). The most amazing series (for Arsenal) came to a head just three days later, the rampant Gunners winning the Premiership game 6-2, Mendes scoring a stunning hat-trick. Arsenal thereby progressed to the semi-finals of the Champions’ League and FA Cup, and moved eighteen points clear at the top of the Premiership, all to the detriment of Abramovich’s Chelsea; Mendes took his tally for the season against Chelsea alone to eleven goals – no wonder they had tried so desperately to sign him the previous summer.

Not only were they powerful in winning game after game in their inexorable campaign to win every trophy available, but Arsenal were simply the best football team to watch, at least on a par with the great Brazil 1970 and 1982 World Cup sides and Liverpool teams of the 1970s and 80s. Granted, they could boast in Mendes and Henry, two of the finest players in the history of the game dovetailing immaculately, but all Arsenal players seemed to be blessed with exquisite touch, technique, pace, movement and intuition, and the ability to score goals. Moreover, they were a group of individuals who seemed to move as one, like a sort of Gestalt structure. Their total of 124 Premiership goals (of which Mendes and Henry between them scored 63) beat the previous record set by Manchester United in 1999-2000 by almost thirty, and were often of such sublime quality that some commentators began to joke that opposition defenders would deliberately stand off the Arsenal attack just to see how beautiful the next goal would be.

Arsenal defeated Manchester United in the FA Cup semi-final, 3-0 at Villa Park, several days after winning the Premier League title against their great rivals at Old Trafford, courtesy of Henry, Mendes and Wiltord goals, with seven games to spare. They finished the Premiership season with a record 104 point haul (33 wins, 5 draws, 0 defeats), having also defeated Millwall 4-1 in the FA Cup Final at Cardiff’s Millennium stadium. ‘The Invincibles’ completed the first-ever football ‘Grand Slam’ with a 4-0 victory over Jose Mourinho’s FC Porto in the Champions’ League Final. Mendes was awarded PFA Player of the Year, Football Writers’ Player of the Year, and the Premiership Golden boot for his table-topping 33 goals, which also won him the European Golden Boot. A goal scored against Liverpool at Anfield, in which he sprinted out to the right touchline to catch a wayward Sol Campbell pass on the end of his toe before it went out of play, at the same time as flicking it back over his shoulder and turning to smash a left-foot volley over the poorly-positioned Jerzy Dudek from 35 metres, encapsulated his extraordinary, unprecedented talent in a single touch, turn and hit, and was voted Goal of the Season by Match of the Day, and the Goal of Goals for the 40th anniversary of the same programme in August 2004. His third of four goals against Chelsea in the second leg of the Champions’ League quarter-final at Highbury, an Exocet-style volley from an Henry flick-up after a devastating counter-attack, won the Champions’ League Goal of the Season, and was one of 19 goals Mendes scored in the competition that season, breaking his own record. His contribution to Arsenal’s remarkable campaign comprised 73 goals from 65 appearances, many of which were stunning volleys and exhilarating individual goals, and 56 assists.

It was in this form that Mendes travelled to Portugal with arguably the greatest-ever England squad as World Champions for the 2004 UEFA European Championships. England finally reaped their revenge over France in the first game, rallying to win 3-2 after a late, late Zinedine Zidane brace looked to have won the French a point. But in the fourth minute of injury time Wayne Rooney won a free-kick thirty-five metres out from the left-hand-side of the goal, and with the French defence having stood tall against most of England’s free kicks, Mendes relieved David Beckham of his duties to launch a direct attempt. After a long run-up, Mendes struck the ball with the outside of his left foot. The ball remained low, rising slowly as it curled around the outside of the defensive wall, and appeared to be going wide, but curled just in time to canon off the inside of the post and into the goal, to the comical surprise of French goalkeeper Fabien Barthez, who, like most, thought the ball was going wide.

England easily won their other two Group B matches against Croatia and Switzerland – both ties most memorable for the thrilling partnership developing between England’s two most naturally-gifted players, Mendes and Wayne Rooney – and progressed to the quarter-finals where they beat Greece, surprise conquerors of host nation Portugal in the opening game, 2-0, courtesy of a brace by Mendes, although the match was marred by the withdrawal of Rooney to a foot injury. Nevertheless, England progressed to the semi-finals of a major championship for the third time in a row, to play Holland; Mendes scored again in a 2-1 victory, and England were through to their third-successive final in a major championship to face hosts Portugal, who had recovered from defeat in the opening match. In a difficult atmosphere, some of England’s players, particularly Mendes and Rooney, were exposed to taunts and gamesmanship in a bid to put them off their game, but the A-list celebrities of the England side maintained their dignity, and keeping compact, allowed Mendes three chances in the second half, all of which he scored. Mendes and England thereby added the style of European Champions to their status as World Champions, repeating France’s achievement in 1998/2000, and Mendes himself was now believed by many to be the greatest footballing talent of all time, even with his best years ahead of him.

Real Madrid again bid £100million as soon as the transfer window opened, thinking Arsenal might finally accept the cash towards their new stadium at Ashburton Grove, but this was immediately rebuffed even before asking Mendes’ opinion; the club wanted to build a future side around him and the likes of Fabregas, Reyes and Van Persie, that could challenge at the top for another decade. Chelsea too, repeated their offer from the previous year, this time offering Arsenal a staggering £120million, which would have virtually doubled the then-record for a transfer, upholding their enormous personal offer for the player, that would have earned him over £130million over the course of his contract, even without bonuses for goals and trophies. Again, the offer was immediately turned down, with Wenger stating that Mendes would only be allowed to leave Arsenal upon his own request. Happy to escape the media storm, Mendes flew to Uganda – with a posse of bodyguards – to open a school and a hospital. He famously didn’t own a mobile phone, and allowed his team of assistants back in London to deal with all correspondences. When he returned home on 6 August, having been excused an early return to pre-season training, he merely stated, again through an assistant, that he would not be entering into any negotiations with any party, which went down as a popular offensive gesture to Real Madrid and Chelsea. Apart from football, Mendes was rarely seen in public for the rest of 2004, making his last appearances with The Terrence Higgins Trust on 1 December, and before a group of economics students in Paris on 13 December. Mendes was due the next evening to collect his record-equalling third Ballon d’Or.

On the evening of 13 December, Mendes visited his friend, the eminent playwright and socialite Pierre de Montgiraud. Amongst those present for the dinner were the poststructuralist philosopher Hélène Cixous, the novelist Amélie Nothomb, the art theorist Nicolas Bourriaud and the actor Mathieu Amalric. Mendes spoke French well, and the party was reported as one high with intellectual exchange. However, Mendes again began complaining of an intensifying headache, such that he was forced to withdraw from his company to go to bed. On being asked what time he would like breakfast in the morning, Mendes replied that he was considering taking the 8:20am flight from Charles de Gaulle to London City, and would therefore require breakfast at around 5.30am.

At 6am on the morning of the 14th, when Mendes had still not arrived at the breakfast table, de Montgiraud sent his valet to check on Mendes’ whereabouts. The valet returned moments later to report that Mendes was still fast asleep. Fifteen minutes later, de Montgiraud, concerned that Mendes may still be ill following the previous evening’s headache, entered his young friend’s room. He was unresponsive; there was no pulse and he was not breathing, and moreover, his skin felt cold despite the warmth of the room. Mme de Montgiraud, Amandine, entered the room upon being startled by her husband’s screams, and found him cradling the 22 year-old’s head in his arms. As it dawned on her the situation, herself on the verge of hysterics, she ordered the valet to call paramedics, and although they arrived minutes later, it was too late. John Paul Mendes had inexplicably, and completely without warning, passed away.

French coroner Guillaume Debruy announced Mendes’ death as having been caused by a sudden, massive cerebral aneurysm and haemorrhage, the cause of which in turn was unknown. It was later widely ascribed to extreme stress and exhaustion once the true magnitude of Mendes’ writings were known; he had written tirelessly, silently, for the past two years, two large novels and a catalogue of smaller pieces. Debruy furthermore hailed him as ‘a virtuoso, genius, singularity, humanitarian and philosopher king, whom we, with crushing sorrow, deliver back departed.’ Comparisons were again drawn to Diana, Princess of Wales, and even to Tutankhamen. Tributes immediately began to flood in from shell-shocked friends and fans all over the world, including royals, politicians, writers, artists, musicians, Hollywood stars and countless others touched by Mendes’ genius.

Thousands lined the streets to mourn and express their disbelief; no one could understand how the world’s greatest star could die so suddenly from a health problem in his youth. The Arsenal pitch at Highbury became an impromptu memorial garden for thousands of bouquets of flowers, and continues as such today, in the form of a beautiful new London square. A sombre Ballon d’Or ceremony went ahead in Paris, with a shellshocked Dennis Bergkamp accepting the award on Mendes’ behalf. The day of his funeral, 23 December, would become forever known as ‘Decades Day’, after the poem ‘Decades Prayer’ embedded in Jehovah’s Blood. His funeral itself was a modest Jehovah’s Witness affair – at the insistence of his mother – involving only family and close friends, at a Kingdom Hall in London’s Westminster. Thereafter a public memorial was held at Westminster Abbey, where eulogies were read by Sir Ian McKellen, Naomi Campbell, Arsène Wenger, Clyde Pemberton-Wells, Vivienne Westwood, Alan Hollinghurst and Prince William of Wales, before his body was buried in the South Transept of the Abbey’s cemetery, otherwise known as ‘Poet’s Corner’. Outside, an estimated 500,000 fans and followers packed the environs of the Abbey to watch the memorial service on giant screens; an estimated two billion more around the world watched live on TV and in Odeon cinemas across the UK. After the service had ended, the family, and close friends of Mendes including Pierre and Amandine de Montgiraud, Tom Ford, Sir Elton John, various footballing colleagues and friends such as Thierry Henry, Arsène Wenger, David and Victoria Beckham and Zinedine Zidane, Naomi Campbell, Arsenal fans Shawn Carter and Beyoncé Knowles, and Princes William and Harry, held a private dinner at Claridges, before a ticket-only concert was given at London’s Heaven, at which New Order (with Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’), Franz Ferdinand, Kanye West, Jay-Z and Beyoncé, Sébastien Tellier and David Daniels performed, reflecting the breadth of Mendes’ musical tastes. All proceeds from ticket sales were split equally amongst Mendes’ four charities, The Terrence Higgins Trust, Oxfam, Amnesty International and The John Paul Mendes Foundation, the latter set up in 2000 to help fight against child poverty and ‘give every child the chance to have the education they want’.

The Christmas programme of Premier League football was suspended in his memory, causing a fixture pile-up later in the season for clubs such as Arsenal who hoped to compete on all fronts. A memorial garden dedicated to Mendes and late Arsenal midfielder David Rocastle, amongst other deceased former Arsenal stars, exists as a permanent feature of what was formerly the Highbury pitch, since the stadium’s redevelopment. Arsenal and England retired the number 11 shirt in his honour.

Legacy, and This Or Death

The extent of John Paul Mendes’ writings were not known until after his death, and sent shockwaves around the literary world. Fourteen handwritten journals, the first dating back to 1988 when Mendes turned six years old, were found locked in a safe, and were found to contain long ‘delightful’ passages of ‘stream of consciousness’ writing, as described by his literary executor, Mia Melia. Already complete was the novel This Or Death, which had taken three years to write but had been finished by spring 2004, and had been submitted to Faber in November. This second novel, the first since Jehovah’s Blood in 1997, detailed the times and measures of a married heterosexual man after he discovers he is HIV positive, having had an unprotected encounter with another man in a sauna. It was praised by critics as a mature study into the psychology of HIV possession – Mendes had maintained a strong affinity with HIV sufferers and in particular, charities such as The Terrence Higgins Trust after first visiting sub-Saharan Africa in 1999 – and its effect on what appears, to all intents and purposes, to be a regular, nuclear, lower-middle class family amongst whom such a demographic-specific disease should never rear its head. It was published in on 23 May 2005, on what would have been Mendes’ 23rd birthday, and was an instant bestseller. It was shortlisted for the 2005 Man Booker Prize, and won, many believe outright rather than out of sympathy or tribute, although some critics quietly complained that it was the second Booker-winner in a row to have a homosexual theme central to the work, after Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty. Moreover, conspiracy theorists, who had from the moment they had heard about Mendes’ death, suspected him of being HIV positive, took This Or Death as proof of their idea that he had committed suicide and left the novel as his justification, knowing that the detail of his cause of death would be concealed by parties keen not to see the ‘pull’ of Mendes, in terms of tourism and merchandising revenue, diminish.

More surprising still were the hard-drives taken from Mendes’ three Apple computers, on which were found more than five million unedited words, a staggering possession for one so young and especially for someone who spent such a great deal of his time in physical training for a profession he reached the very top of. Studies into the work upheld an unorthodox, complex and highly effective style that could not easily have been replicated, and a common ‘stream of consciousness’ factor that was unique to his way of thinking, and of expressing himself. Of this incredible mass of words and passages, several publications are being discussed by Pemberton-Wells, Melia and Faber as being structured by Mendes’ material and ‘finished’ with the collaborative help of some contemporary authors whom Mendes admired, such as Jeanette Winterson, Alan Hollinghurst, Marc-Antoine Leclercq and Umberto Eco. A series of short stories under the title The New Addiction, including the infantile piece ‘Being Four’, was published in 2007. A complete novella, Everything’s Gone Blue, was found and is due for publication in January 2010. The rest may comprise a ‘Complete Works’ for a later release. All proceeds from the works are fed directly into The John Paul Mendes Foundation.

John Paul Mendes is perhaps the first and only player of his calibre for whom there exists complete documentation. A four-disc DVD box set was released in May 2007 in time for the 25th anniversary of his birth, comprising his top fifty greatest goals, as decided by a panel that included Arsène Wenger, Alan Hansen and Turner Prize-winning artist Douglas Gordon; a biographical documentary featuring interviews with Philip and Ava Mendes, Clyde Pemberton-Wells, Nicholas Wall-Hunter, David Dein and Pierre de Montgiraud; the Channel Four documentary ‘At Home With John Paul Mendes’; and a compilation of Big Brother-style ‘Best Bits’. A further DVD box set containing all of his goals from his filmed debut for the Arsenal youth team in December 1996, through to his last ever appearance on 12 December 2004, marked by a goal against West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns, the stadium nearest the home he grew up in.

John Paul Mendes, arguably more than any other player, changed the face of football leading into the twenty-first century. Whereas footballers traditionally had a reputation for being ill-educated and lazy, Mendes forged a reputation as an educated, eloquent young man, and was a great writer who worked tirelessly to ‘become himself’. Although he never publicly, explicitly ‘came out’, it is widely believed that he was only the second gay man to play at the top level in Britain, and was too talented and dignified to allow his career to go in the same direction as that of Justin Fashanu, with whom he greatly sympathised, and acknowledged the strong set-up at Arsenal as a vital support. ‘If I go to Real Madrid,’ he once said, ‘I won’t have Arsenal to look after me.’ Despite suffering homophobia from small sections throughout his career, early on during away games in England and abroad, later on only in Champions’ League and England international matches away in areas such as Eastern Europe and South America, Mendes continued to add his weight to campaigns for the institution of civil partnerships and the legalisation of gay marriage, joining the annual Gay Pride march in London in 2001. Neither would he put up with racism, and he memorably walked off the pitch (after scoring a fantastic goal) during the first half of England’s infamous away friendly against Spain at Valencia’s Mestalla stadium in 2003, during which England’s black players, namely Mendes, Emile Heskey, Ashley Cole, Sol Campbell, Jermain Defoe and Shaun Wright-Phillips, were subjected to vile chanting and banana-throwing from sections of the Spanish crowd. The rest of the England team followed, and the match was abandoned with the score at 1-1. Addressing the media after the match, Mendes said:

‘If this were a competitive game, I would have blocked it out and gritted my teeth, and continued to play. But the longer that went on, the more I started to think about Manchester United and Everton next week. More to the point, and I don’t like to self-praise, but I’m the best player in the world, and those idiots clearly don’t deserve the chance to see me. Besides, they all look more like monkeys than me.’

Spain were later fined £155,000 by FIFA for failing to control their fans. Mendes helped launch the ‘Kick Racism Out Of Football’ campaign, which has largely been successful in helping to stub out the problem across Europe, and moreover appeared with other international stars such as David Beckham, Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney, Thierry Henry, Cristiano Ronaldo and Arjen Robben in a campaign to combat football’s image as a homophobic sport. Mendes was a supporter of Stonewall FC and even turned out for them in a friendly against American side DC United in 2003.

John Paul Mendes is universally considered to be the finest football player of his generation, and his style of play is thought to have changed the international game. He was admired for his ability to improvise to any situation, a sure sign of his pure talent. He made it fashionable for attacking players to ‘track back’ and become ‘compact’ with their teams when without the ball. He is believed to have strongly influenced the playing styles of the current crop of top players in world football, many of whom are wingers/playmakers in his image, such as Robinho, Carlos Tevez, Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, David Silva and Franck Ribery. He has opened schools in Britain, Uganda, Jamaica and Egypt in his name, academic schools that provide top-level education and first-class sporting facilities for both male and female students given full scholarships on merit, rather than on their parents’ financial clout, made possible by The John Paul Mendes Foundation, in the hope of creating the intelligent, witty, talented sporting heroes of the future.

Top Ten John Paul Mendes goals (voted for by a panel including Arsène Wenger, Sir Bobby Robson, Wayne Rooney, Alan Hansen, Douglas Gordon, Peter Reid, Howard Wilkinson, David Pleat, Leonardo, John Motson, Stephen Fry, Clive Anderson, Dermot O’Leary and Nick Hornby):

10. Against Brazil, World Cup Final 2002 (first goal):

David Beckham’s cross from the right is contested by Brazil ‘keeper Dida and England striker Emile Heskey; the ball skims off Heskey’s head and seems to be going behind Mendes who, arriving from the left, instinctively side-foots the ball into the net on the volley.

Final score: Brazil 2-4 England

9. Against AC Milan, UEFA Champions’ League Final, 2003 (second goal):

At the end of a 22-pass team move, Mendes flicks Henry’s pass up and around his body and spins his defender to place a looping volley into the corner of the net from twenty metres, to equalise at 2-2.

Final score: Arsenal 4-2 AC Milan

They’re passing the ball around with all the speed and intuition we’ve come to expect and that is such a joy to watch, but Milan are standing firm and so one wonders where is the end product, but for the inscription of some beautiful geometric shapes on the pitch, but here’s Mendes…. OH!'

ITV’s Clive Tyldesley’s commentary of Mendes’ second goal against Milan

8. Against Barcelona, UEFA Champions’ League Quarter-Final first-leg, 2002 (third goal):

Similar to No.10, but Mendes arrives on the left to deliberately volley a Pires cross back inside the far post with the outside of his right foot.

Final score: Barcelona 2-4 Arsenal

7. Against Romania, FIFA World Cup First Group Phase, 1998:

David Beckham crosses from the right. Alan Shearer jumps up to challenge the Romanian goalkeeper, who punches well, and clear, only for Mendes, twenty-five metres from goal, to adjust his body in mid-air and volley straight into the top corner with the outside of his right foot, to rescue a point for England in the dying seconds of his World Cup debut.

Final score: Romania 2-2 England

6. Against Juventus, UEFA Champions’ League Semi-Final first leg, 2002 (third goal):

A cross floated over from Robert Pires on the right is flicked wide by the head of Fabio Cannavaro, sending it behind Mendes on the left, but the World Player of the Year improvises by back-heeling the ball over his own shoulder and inside the far post.

Final score: Juventus 1-4 Arsenal (2-6 agg.)

5. Against France, UEFA European Championship Group Phase, 2004 (second goal):

Wayne Rooney wins a free-kick thirty-five metres from goal, in the inside left channel, which Mendes, Gerrard and Beckham stand over. After a long run-up, Mendes blasts a shot that curls around the outside of the wall and in off the far post.

Final score: France 2-3 England

4. Against Real Madrid, UEFA Champions’ League Final 2002 (first goal):

Mendes picks up the ball on the halfway line, and on the right touchline, but is surrounded by defenders. Flicking the ball up with his left foot, he in turn flicks the ball through the legs of Guti as he spins around the outside. Chasing his own pass, he bears down on goal but is pushed past; no matter – he back-flicks the ball to set up a shooting chance twenty metres from the goal, which he finishes past Iker Casillas with aplomb.

Final score: Real Madrid 2-5 Arsenal

3. Against Chelsea, UEFA Champions’ League Quarter-Final second leg, 2004 (third goal):

Chelsea press for a third goal to rescue the tie, but Gilberto Silva picks up the ball in his own penalty area and passes crisply to Lauren, who finds Ljungberg, who passes first-time to Henry on the right touchline, who flicks up for the onrushing Mendes to volley an exceptionally pure strike into the top corner from twenty-five metres. 4.9 seconds after Gilberto picks up the ball, it is in the back of Chelsea’s net.

Final score: Arsenal 4-2 Chelsea (7-3 agg.)

2. Against Liverpool, Premiership, 2003:

Arsenal try to defend a sustained Liverpool attack, but Sol Campbell’s massive, wayward clearance towards the right touchline is kept in play by Mendes, who has sprinted thirty metres to take the ball on his right foot whilst in the same movement, flicking it over his own shoulder on the turn. Sensing Liverpool goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek to be off his line, he powers a stunning left-foot volley into the top corner from thirty-five metres.

Final score: Liverpool 2-5 Arsenal

1. Against Brazil, FIFA World Cup Final 2002 (second goal):

Mendes supports Ashley Cole in the left-back channel and tackles Ronaldinho before dribbling seventy metres with the ball at scintillating pace through several defenders, before bursting into the penalty area and ‘jabbing’ the ball past Dida without breaking stride.

Final Score: Brazil 2-4 England

See also

Through A Mother’s Eyes by Ava Mendes (main article)

The Perfect Player by Marc-Antoine Leclercq (main article)

Being Four (main article)

Jehovah’s Blood (main article)

Anatomy of a Player (main article)

This Or Death (main article)

The New Addiction (main article)

This is a work of fiction written in the style of a Wikipedia page

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