Ahead of their Nations Cup celebrations on Sunday evening, with Egypt defeated 2-1 in Libreville, Cameroon ’s players changed into shirts wearing the number 17.
There was a dual significance to the costume shift. Not only were the custom kits acknowledging the year of the Indomitable Lions’ Afcon success, and the end of their 15-year wait for a continental gold. They were also paying homage to one of the nation’s favourite sons, Marc-Vivien Foe , a player whose candle burned brightly…but all too briefly.
Foe was a dynamic, powerful, indefatigable box-to-box midfielder in the ‘classic, African’ mode, able to win the ball at the base of the midfield and carry it forward before instigating attacks.
He was supremely athletic, his tackling was clean, his passing was often inventive and, as his career wore on, he started adding more goals to his game, notably a stunner for Manchester City at Maine Road—the last goal scored in the famous old ground.
Foe was so good that, in 1998, he was wanted by Manchester United, potentially as an upgrade on Nicky Butt, to offer support for Roy Keane and Paul Scholes in the heart of the park.
It’s tantalising to imagine what might have been had Lens not rejected a £3 million offer from the Red Devils and had Foe joined a side that was on the brink of winning the treble.
Doubtless, he missed out on a success that, coupled with Cameroon’s impending continental glories, would have placed him right up there among Africa’s most decorated players.
Misfortune—Foe missed much of Lyon’s 2000-01 title-winning campaign with malaria—would follow the player around.
"We won the match 1-0 and the players were dancing in the changing rooms afterwards. Then [captain] Rigobert Song came in and cried and said "Marco, Marco" and told us he was dead.” Cameroon coach Winfried Schafer
"He made a big impression, he really did. I wasn't working for City at the time, but I know he made a big impression with people at the club. Everyone loved him. Everyone who met and talked to him...you couldn't not like the fella. He touched everyone,” Chris Bailey, Manchester City head of media content
"He was much-heralded and seemingly had the world at his feet but he was as genuine and likeable as they come. Regardless of what was asked of him, he did it with a smile and I thought he represented the best of football and footballers." Shaka Hislop, former West Ham United goalkeeper.
“[Foe was] a gentle giant. You could not meet a nicer fella. It's just come as such a shock." Harry Redknapp
"Marc-Vivien Foe will leave us the memory of a charming boy, the incarnation of the joy in life. We will keep of him his bursts of laughter, the music which comes out of the changing room, and his kindness away from the ground. Marco, we will not forget you." Olympique Lyonnais’ website.