Benjamin Mendy beams at the mention of the Champions League.
It is a competition he loves and why the Manchester City left back will put aside friendships and hero worship to fulfil his dreams of winning the trophy.
Frenchman Mendy, like many of his compatriots, grew up inspired by Zinedine Zidane when the midfield legend starred for Juventus and Real Madrid and led his country to World Cup glory in 1998, scoring twice in the 3-0 win over Brazil. Now Mendy will try to upset Zidane when City face his Real Madrid side in the last 16 of Europe’s most prestigious club competition.
“Playing against Real, it will be a special game,” he told Sport360 exclusively.
“We are very excited to play this game. For the French people, we know Zidane was a God and to play against him, the team where he is the manager, it will be a pleasure.
“He was an inspiration for me, for all the French people. But we will go there and play against them with fight and play for our team and to try to win. We are going to try to do our best.”
Having won the World Cup himself with France in 2018, the Champions League would be another notable prize for Mendy.
He came so close with former club Monaco in 2017, beating City en route to the semi finals where they lost to Juventus.
Last season Mendy was sidelined by a knee injury as City were pipped on the away goals rule by Spurs in the last eight, with their pain heightened when a dramatic injury-time winner for Raheem Sterling was disallowed by VAR.
“It hurt me a lot,” added the 25-year-old, twice a Premier League winner with City, who are set to relinquish their title to runaway leaders Liverpool.
“This cup, I love a lot. I went to the semi finals with Monaco and was so close.
“I hope this year I go one step more and get to the final with Manchester City. It’s the best cup for one team. You can see the reaction, what it means [to everyone].
“All the big teams are in the finals. We are going to try everything to make all the supporters happy.
“Of course we will look to this competition now. We know from the Premier League Liverpool are playing really really well so for this year we are going to try for the Champions League.”
Wednesday’s first-leg tie will be played under the shadow of City’s UEFA’s two-year Champions League ban for breaching Financial Fair Play rules.
The club have appealed the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and boss Pep Guardiola said he and his players are focused on their on-field challenges.
For Mendy, the clash with 13-time European champions Real will also bring him up against his close friend and compatriot Karim Benzema.
The striker, who has scored 18 times in 32 appearances this season, will make his 100th Champions League appearance for Real Madrid against City, whose own record scorer Sergio Aguero will spearhead their attack.
And Mendy said: “Karim is my friend, such a good striker. I wish him the best all the time, but in these two games against us I hope he doesn’t score. Sergio is also so good. He’s a legend for this club.”