How can there be any sense of disappointment in the Fabrice Muamba story?
This is the footballer who "died" on the silent turf of White Hart Lane back in March. For 78 minutes, some of those under the glaring, intrusive lights of television, Fabrice Muamba's heart no longer worked. The starting point for the Muamba story is when his heart stopped. Yesterday, he declared his football career had officially stopped. The two sentences must sit together to contextualise what that actually means.
Of course, there is disappointment that a 24-year-old who played for England at Under-21 level and who graduated from the Arsenal academy has called time on his playing career so early. But it is not prematurely, as the doctors who made breath possible again confirmed in the immediate aftermath of the announcement.
Muamba's heart is not strong enough for him to be a footballer. The area around his heart is weak – there is a mechanical problem as result of the cardiac arrest he suffered 41 minutes into an FA Cup quarter-final between Spurs and Bolton Wanderers. He had 15 defibrillator shocks before his heart started beating again.
He had travelled to Belgium last week for what was said to be a routine, minor operation. The news came then. "While the news is devastating, I have much to be thankful for," Muamba said. "I thank God that I am alive and I pay tribute once again to the members of the medical team who never gave up on me. Since suffering my heart attack and being discharged from hospital, I have remained utterly positive in the belief I could one day resume my playing career. Above all else, I love the game and count myself very lucky to have been able to play at the highest level.
"As part of my ongoing recovery, last week I travelled to Belgium to seek further medical advice from a leading cardiologist, but the news I received was obviously not what I had hoped it would be and it means I am now announcing my retirement from professional football."
Bolton's manager, Owen Coyle, said yesterday: "We have spoken with Fab and he knows we will always support him in whatever he wants to do and that we will always be here for him. He is obviously massively disappointed that he won't be able to carry on his career, but everyone has seen what a fighter and strong person he is in mind and body. We know that he will go on to achieve great things and within all this disappointment, the most important thing is that he is here, alive, today."
Muamba's very presence is a galvanising one. His attendance at the Footballer of the Year dinner at London's Lancaster Gate Hotel in May caused Robin van Persie, the award winner, to jump from the stage and hug his friend when he was introduced to the audience. It was an unforgettable moment. Muamba united football with his recovery. That should never be forgotten.
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- Stephen Carter