Nathaniel Mendez-Laing was a relatively unknown figure outside of the Wolverhampton Wanderers academy until a few years ago. But a series of loan spells at lower league teams moulded him into a potential star who, when fit, may have the opportunity to save Cardiff City’s Premier League campaign.
Mendez-Laing, a quick, and snappy winger with bags of potential and raw talent, was first loaned out to Peterborough United. The youngster was often used as a super-sub at “The Posh” as manager Darren Ferguson utilized his pace and trickery in the dying moments where the club needed it most. In a side of players including Aaron McLean, Craig Mackail-Smith and George Boyd — all of whom would soon transfer for big money to Championship teams — Mendez-Laing didn’t look out of place nor did he ever look like he was just there to make up the numbers as he often provided big contributions in key moments. The then teenager helped himself to a respectable total of five goals in 33 league appearances for a Peterborough side that won promotion to the Championship via the League One playoffs.
Many at Peterborough were so impressed by the young wideman’s performance in his debut professional year that the club tried to sign him on a permanent basis. But that move wasn’t to be. Instead, misfortune found Mendez-Laing as he spent half of the 2011 season on an unsuccessful loan at Sheffield United. But Peterborough United did get the deal done the following summer, allowing the player to return to the site of his most famous feats.
Mendez-Laing seemed to pick up where he left off following his return. For a long period, he dazzled with flicks and tricks and helped the team in their pursuit to avoid relegation from England’s second tier. However those happy times did not last long as following a public order offense in Peterborough town center, Mendez-Laing was pushed out of the team and loaned to Portsmouth. Though following his month out in the cold, manager Darren Ferguson announced that he had forgiven Mendez-Laing and that all involved wished to move on. Ferguson’s wish seemed to be Mendez-Laing’s command as he shone on his return from the naughty step, showing his class by grabbing goals against Millwall and Crystal Palace, almost inspiring the team to avoid the drop back down to League One.
After Mendez-Laing’s strong performance at the business end of the relegation plagued 2012-13 campaign, many hoped that Mendez-Laing was going to reprise his starring role the following year and lead the club to promotion back to the Championship. But this wasn’t to be the case as criticism once again came knocking on Mendez-Laing’s door. Manager Darren Ferguson, as well as many fans, commented that Mendez-Laing had returned from the summer break looking unfit and unlike his usual self. This period of poor fitness ignited another rocky patch in the wide man’s career. Mendez-Laing was sent on loan for a month to Shrewsbury before returning briefly to Peterborough who subsequently sent him on loan once again, this time to local rivals Cambridge United.
Peterborough United released their former star man in the summer of 2015 when fellow League One side Rochdale took a chance on him. Mendez-Laing repaid their faith by giving them two decent seasons and helping them to stay in League One. Mendez-Laing’s consistency at Rochdale earned him a somewhat surprising move to promotion-chasing Championship side Cardiff City in the summer of 2017. At Cardiff, Mendez-Laing retook to Championship football like a duck to water scoring three goals in his first three games and assuming a star berth in a Cardiff team that won promotion to the Championship.
The career of Nathaniel Mendez-Laing has been a rollercoaster ride. His story is one of hard work, dedication, talent, eventual maturity and also of often near disaster but more crucially it is an ongoing story that should provide hope to all lower league footballers. Because in just a few years Mendez-Laing has transformed from an often loaned nomad to a key player for a Premier League side; that is quite a trajectory. But like in his early days at Peterborough United, Mendez-Laing will not be a bystander amongst quality players but surely an inspiration in their fight to beat the drop from the country’s top flight.