Friday, June 27, 2008
Marc-Vivien Foe Tribute
Soccer City FC
Five years on and the life of Marc-Vivien Foe still lives on strong, the gentle giant will never be forgotten by those who had the honour of watching and being in his presence. The Cameroon favourite was a rarity in modern day football - a loveable, charming and compassionate character who cared dearly for his nation and worked hard to ensure that life was made better for many in his homeland. The story of a great man on-and-off the pitch.
Life in football began at an early age and his first major honour was being involved in Cameroon’s campaign at the 1994 World Cup finals in USA. The African side did not advance past the group stage, but Foe’s performances earmarked him to a move to Europe at the young age of 20. A star was on the rise.
The transfer took him from Cameroonian side Canon Yaounde to Lens in France, giving him the opportunity to shine on a bigger stage and showcase his talents. He stayed at Lens for almost five seasons and played a pivotal role in their march to the club’s first French title and a place in the French Cup final. Foe’s move to France had most certainly paid off and Lens had on their books a player with undoubted ability with a blend of athleticism and defensive surety. Foe made a total of 85 appearances and scored 11 goals on the way before the Premiership beckoned. A move to England had been on the cards as Manchester United had a £3million bid rejected in 1998 but a broken leg ended any interest. The following year Harry Redknapp broke West Ham’s transfer record for a player at the time to take Foe to London.
The record transfer did not last, however, as he remained unsettled and his dream of playing in England was initially premature. A regular at West Ham during the second half of the 1997/1998 season and again a recurring figure in the team for the opening six months of the next season, Foe returned to France with Lyon for £6 million. A move to Liverpool had fallen through but the French outfit saw Foe as a key player that would help them win the Ligue 1 title for the first time. By 2002, Foe had done exactly that and was a key player in Lyon’s first title win - the start of their dominating reign of French football. A cup win also rounded off a ecstatic year, which also included international honours at the African Cup of Nations.
Foe’s dream to play in England however remained unfulfilled and his stint at West Ham only lasted the equivalent of one season, which is one of the reasons why he rejected the chance to play Champions League football with Lyon to sign for newly-promoted Manchester City. Kevin Keegan was delighted with the capture of the Cameroonian, declaring Foe as “a quality player…who is strong, a tremendous athlete and who knows English football. He really wants to come here and play in the Premiership and has given up the chance to play Champions League football in order to do so. I think he is a tremendously important signing for us. All the others are exciting but some signings you know are just right and this one is just right for Manchester City.”
A loan fee for £550,000 was agreed with Lyon that took him to Maine Road and in his twelve month stay he was a dynamo at the heart of midfield. Foe was ever-present in the Manchester City team for the 2002-2003 campaign and made a total of 35 appearances and scored a creditable 9 goals and secured the club’s position in the Premiership. He was a colossal midfielder who imposed his strength to break up play and repel the opposition, his height to deal with aerial balls both offensively and defensively and he displayed his attacking capabilities by scoring vital goals. Fearless, motivator, commander of the circle box, his determination and drive were his key attributes. Fans, having appreciated his contributions throughout the season, could not wait to sign Foe on a permanent deal in the summer of 2003 and undoubtedly it is something he will have considered strongly but it was not meant to be. On the day of 26th June in 2003 during a Confederations Cup semi-final against Columbia, Marc-Vivien Foe collapsed and died from an abnormal enlargement of a heart ventricle. His place in Manchester City’s Walk of Pride is eternal, and his shirt number 23 has been retired along with Lyon’s shirt number 17, which was recently allocated to countryman Jean II Makoun who said “In memory of Marco, for me and all of the Cameroon; it will be a source of strength.”
Foe will forever be remembered as not only one of the best box-to-box midfielders at Manchester City in modern times, but one of the most talented defensive midfielders in recent years, and who knows what he could have achieved either at City or elsewhere if the tragedy had not happened. His last season with Manchester City was arguably his best and he was cut from his prime and at a stage where he was most definitely looking forwards. Foe went down in folklore as the scorer of the last Manchester City goal at Maine Road on 26 April 2003 - a fitting tribute and one that will forever be remembered.
Two French league titles were only some of his honours as a player. Twice he won the African Cup of Nations in 2000 and 2002 and proudly represented Cameroon on 65 occasions. He was a core player in Cameroon's "Indomitable Lions" and following his death he was honourably awarded the Commander of the National Order of Valour.
Marc-Vivien Foe’s work in youth development programmes in Cameroon is still ongoing. The Marc Vivien Foe Memorial Fund was launched in 2005 to continue the work that he had started and it gives young men aged between 11 and 19 the opportunity to experience and learn football coaching. The project works with at least 5,000 children to improve their sporting skills and to provide communities with sufficient facilities and equipment so that they are able to play football. Other activities carried out raise health awareness on matters such as HIV and AIDS so that the children develop a higher understanding of them.
The death of Foe was unfortunately not the last of its time, as fellow footballers Antonio Puerta, Miklos Feher, Hugo Cunha, Serginho, Max Ferreira, Marcio Dos Santos and more recently Motherwell legend Phil O’Donnell all passed away under similar circumstances. Football creates its own heroes, villains and the legends who produce a moment of inspiration to turn a game around, but it is the well-being of the footballers which is most important. Whilst these players have passed away, they most certainly did not do so in vein. UEFA have ordered that every international player participating in Euro 2008 undergo cardiac screening. Team doctors for each of the 16 international teams screened all 23 squad players and a rule has now been enforced whereby the doctor must be among the maximum six team officials on the bench for international matches.
No matter how you remember him, whether it be as a gifted midfielder, a gentlemen and his community work in his homeland, or just his smile - Marc-Vivien Foe is missed greatly and will forever be remembered. Someone like Marc-Vivien Foe only comes around once in a blue moon.
“A lion never dies, it sleeps.”
Image details: Marc Vivien Foe of Cameroon served by picapp.com