Cult Heroes: John Mensah

by Stuart Vose

Gifted defender takes the spotlight.

Surely one of the most naturally gifted defenders ever to grace the Stadium of Light, John Mensah’s time on Wearside would ultimately be peppered with injuries.

The Ghanaian international was the self-declared ‘Rock of Gibraltar’ and certainly lived up to the name. Though not the tallest, the muscular Mensah redefined the term ‘unit’ and often bossed strikers who towered over him.

He brought a spark of fun off the pitch too, from bringing a huge poster to the training ground to explain his nickname to surprising a local journalist with a gift of traditional sandals from his homeland.

But a series of injury problems restricted his appearances, though Sunderland’s back line was visibly bolstered when he was in the line-up.

Having moved from Accra to Bologna, Italy, in 2000, Mensah featured for Bellinzona, Genoa, Chievo, Modena and Cremonese before joining Rennes in 2006.

A spell with Lyon followed before Steve Bruce brought the defender to the Stadium of Light on a season-long loan in August 2009.

He settled quickly and soon impressed the Stadium of Light faithful, but persistent injuries limited him to only 17 appearances.

Tellingly, Sunderland lost just five of the 16 league games in which Mensah played, taking 23 points or more than half of their season-ending tally of 44.

A World Cup adventure in South Africa followed with Mensah playing a key role as Ghana became the darlings of Africa, reaching the quarter-finals before bowing out to Uruguay on penalties.

One of the enduring memories of the tournament was Mensah completing a full circuit of the stadium, celebrating with fans after an extra-time win over the United States sent the Black Stars into the last eight.

Mensah returned to Sunderland in August 2010 alongside another of Ghana’s stars, striker Asamoah Gyan.

The pair quickly became known for their madcap antics, including dancing in the tunnel and dressing room both before and after games, no matter the ground.

But again the defender struggled with injuries, making 18 appearances and playing his last game for the club during the 3-1 defeat to Wolves in May 2011.

Mensah returned to Lyon for the 2011-12 season, departing midway through the campaign to re-join former club Rennes.

Incidentally, John’s half-brother, Ekow Benson, currently plays for Ghanaian side Asante Kotoko FC, who have a partnership with Sunderland.

Take a look at John’s personal website at