Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Foe- The Man Without An Enemy

"My strength is my calmness. I believe you are at your best when you are discreet and calm"- Marc-Vivien Foe

Deaths on the pitch are an exceptionally rare occurrence in football, with only a handful of cases recorded around the world over many years. Cameroon's
Marc-Vivien Foe became one of very few players to die during or soon after a match when he collapsed after 72 minutes of a Confederations Cup semi-final clash against Colombia four years ago today. Playing in stifling heat in Lyon, the 28-year-old former Manchester City and West Ham midfield anchor fell to the ground unchallenged in the centre circle. Despite the immediate attention of medical staff, he was pronounced dead 45 minutes later. The tall, powerfully built midfielder represented his country 56 times, scoring eight goals, and was survived by his wife Marie-Louise and three children.

Born in Nkolo, Marc-Vivien Foe started playing for what he later called pocket money, with L'Union De Garoa, but his first major club in Cameroon was Yaounde. He was not unfamiliar with France, having visited it as a youth player, and, in the 1994-95 season, he began his impressive career in Europe, joining Lens, then managed by Gerard Houillier. Foé had just played all three, somewhat ill-fated, games in the 1994 World Cup finals in the United States for a Cameroon team at odds with its officialdom, a mere parody of the brilliant side so unlucky to lose to England in Naples in the previous World Cup quarter-finals. Drawing 2-2 with Sweden, it proceeded to lose 3-0 to Brazil, then to disgrace itself with an abject performance against a Russian team which beat it 6-0.

A broken leg led Foé to miss the finals of the 1998 World Cup in France. Indeed, it also stymied a transfer to Manchester United, which was under negotiation at the time. But he played all three matches for Cameroon in the 2002 World Cup in Japan - a draw with Ireland, a 1-0 victory over Saudi Arabia, defeat by Germany and consequent elimination, again at the first group stage, though somewhat more honourably.

At Lens, Foé made 85 league appearances, playing four full seasons for them and another five games in season 1998-99, before joining West Ham United. He had scored just 11 goals for Lens, and none in his first spell at West Ham, comprising 13 league games, just one the following seasons when he appeared in 25 league matches.

At Upton Park, he won the admiration of the then manager, Harry Redknapp. After Foé's death, Redknapp reflected that everybody had loved him at West Ham, and had enjoyed having him around. "I don't think," he continued, that "he ever made an enemy in his life."

From east London, Foé moved back to Lyon in the 2000-2001 season, making 25 league appearances and scoring once. The following season, he played just 17 league matches, scoring twice. On loan at Maine Road, however, he was a more frequent scorer, getting nine goals in his last season, making use of his height and power in the air, at set pieces. But he was known chiefly as a solid defensive not an attacking midfielder.

In the 2003 season, he played 35 Premiership games for Manchester City, having made an important contribution to the club's return to the Premiership. In the week that he died, he had obtained a free transfer from Lyon, and City were eager to welcome him back to Manchester. But Redknapp, who had paid £4m for him at West Ham and then sold him to Lyon for £6m, had also faxed Foé, on the day of his death, an invitation to play for Portsmouth, his newly promoted team.

Marc-Vivien Foé, footballer born May 1 1975; died June 26 2003

Further reading: Rigobert Song's tribute; A piece by Keir Radnedge; The hidden timebomb; A woeful way to treat Foe; Obituary in The Independent; Final of grief and memory; Obituary in The Telegraph; Keegan distraught;

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