Redknapp leads the tributes as Foé's death shocks game
Friday 27 June 2003
Tragically, it is not that unusual for perfectly fit young men to drop dead of a heart attack. Although the exact cause of Marc-Vivien Foé's death in the Stade Gerland has yet to be precisely diagnosed, Sudden Death Syndrome is the biggest killer of men under 35 and the majority are the kind who regularly go to gyms.
The Cameroon international, who collapsed during the 1-0 victory in Lyon - the city he helped to a French title last year - which guaranteed his team a now meaningless place in the Confederations Cup final, is merely the most high-profile of a list of athletes to have died of heart failure seemingly without explanation.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy leads to a thickening of the walls of the heart, irregular heartbeats and an irregular pumping action that is often triggered after a heavy workout. The victim may feel chest pains but often the attacks are without warning.
It had not yet been diagnosed when in 1890 Archie Hunter, a Scot who had captained Aston Villa to the FA Cup, suffered a heart attack while playing against Everton. Although Hunter survived he died four years later.
A century afterwards, David Longhurst collapsed and died while playing for York against Lincoln at a televised match at Bootham Crescent, where there is now a stand that bears his name. Daniel Yorath was 15 and had just signed for his father's old club, Leeds United, when in 1992 he died while playing football with his dad. John Marshall, a product of the National Football School of Excellence, suffered a similar fate on the day he was due to join Everton, as did Ian Bell a teenager on Hartlepool's books.
Whether or not Sudden Death Syndrome claimed Foé, observers agreed the midfielder, who spent last season on loan from Lyon at Manchester City, was supremely fit. Harry Redknapp, who managed him for a season at West Ham, recalled: "Never have I seen someone in better physical condition than Marc and you couldn't have met a nicer boy. Everybody at West Ham loved him, you just have to look at the reaction of the French players when they were told of his death to see that."
His impact in his one season with City was enormously effective. "Some signings you know are just right and this one is," his manager, Kevin Keegan declared last summer, although many at Maine Road regretted the club could not afford the £7m to make the deal permanent.
Keegan often used him as a floating player in a five-man midfield and when Newcastle came to Maine Road in August, Sir Bobby Robson dramatically altered the Magpies' tactics to deal with him, an experiment that backfired badly in a 1-0 defeat. In a 3-0 win at Sunderland in December, Foé displayed the full range of a talent that once encouraged Sir Alex Ferguson to bring him to Old Trafford.
Dave Wallace, editor of the City fanzine King of the Kippax, said: "A lot of the crowd were dubious about him at first but then he started belting in goals from all over the place. A lot of City fans wanted us to buy him but the price posed problems, although when it dropped by a couple of million quid we should have gone for it."
It is, of course, utterly crass to mention it now but Foé was regarded as something of an unlucky footballer. But for Redknapp's desire to bring in Frédéric Kanouté from Lyon - for whom Foé was effectively swapped - he might have enjoyed a longer career at Upton Park. A broken leg in the spring of 1998 not only cost him a place in the Cameroon squad for the World Cup finals, it scuppered a deal that would have taken him from Lens to Manchester United for roughly the £4m Redknapp later paid. Ferguson was sufficiently impressed to take him for specialist trials and treatment but could not conclude a deal before the Champions' League transfer deadline.
His time at Lyon was marred by a bout of malaria, although he eventually won the French Championnat in 2002 at the stadium in which he was to die. Marc-Vivien Foé might have been remembered as a very great footballer. Now he will be remembered for the manner of his death.
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