It’s almost 17 years since Cameroon lost its iconic midfielder Marc Vivien Foe during the Confederations Cup at the Stade de Gerland in France.
The towering midfielder, who collapsed and died during a semi-final clash against Colombia, would have turned 45 today, May 1.
Interestingly, the former West Ham and Manchester City midfielder was born on a day considered an international labour day. And many will remember him for his tireless work rate, covering every blade of grass each time he had to do duty for either club or country.
But, the most chilling memory of the former Indomitable Lions midfield enforcer is a revelation by his ex-teammate Eric Djemba-Djemba that he declared he was ready to die on the football pitch hours before that fateful Colombia tie.
“I will never forget what he said to us on the bus before we played. He said, ‘if someone needs to die today, we will die. We don’t need to lose that game because I promised to my wife and children we need to go to that final. I need to win the Confederations Cup’,” Djemba-Djemba told a British daily earlier this year.
The former Manchester United midfielder, Djemba-Djemba, was Foe’s midfield partner that haunting day and is said to have been the last person that talked to him.
“He said to me just before, ‘Eric, I am tired.’ So I said to him, when the ball goes out, we’ll tell the coach and he will substitute him.
“But he didn’t have one minute. The ball was in the air and he jumped up with Mario Yepes, who I played with at Nantes.
“I saw Foe fall down and then I saw Mario shouting, ‘Hey, hey, hey’.
“We walked over to him and we knew he was dead straight away.”
Foe ably screened the back four of the Indomitable Lions in their back-to-back AFCON triumph in 2000 and 2002. His colourful career started in Canon Yaoundé, one of the biggest clubs in Cameroon, before spending five seasons with French side RC Lens. He won the 1998 French league title.
Later that year, a potential move to Manchester United was then scuppered by an injury. Shortly after his recovery, he was snapped up by English Premiership side West Ham United for a club record £4.2 million (R98.7 million) in January 1999. He played 38 league matches for West Ham before moving back to France, this time with Lyon.
Foé returned to the Premier League, loaned to City at the start of the 2002/03 season.
A minute of silence is observed in every Confederations Cup final to honour Foe, who netted 24 goals at club level, and eight goals for his country.
Autopsy results revealed he died from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a hereditary condition known to increase the risk of sudden death during physical exercise.
Foe’s widow Marie-Louise later revealed that her late husband had been ill with gastric problems and dysentery before the game. However, the resolute midfield ace was adamant he wanted to play because the match was being played in his adopted hometown of Lyon.
By Mthokozisi Dube