YAOUNDE, Cameroon, May 7 – The tragic death of Patrick Ekeng in Romania on Friday has replunged Cameroon football into mourning, 13 years after Marc-Vivien Foe’s passing.
“The sad images of this drama brought back another, that of June 26, 2003 at Gerland,” wrote Cameroon star Samuel Eto’o on his Facebook page, recalling Foe who collapsed and died on the pitch in Lyon during a Confederations Cup semi-final against Colombia.
“Like a broken record of sadness and tragedy, Patrick Ekeng passed away, struck dead,” continued Eto’o, who said he was “completely devastated”.
The 26-year-old Ekeng had been on the pitch for only seven minutes after his introduction as a second-half substitute for his club Dinamo Bucharest when he collapsed in the centre circle.
He could not be resuscitated.
Prosecutors in Bucharest announced on Saturday they had opened an enquiry into Ekeng’s death, amid criticism of the treatment he received.
An autopsy will be performed on Monday with Romania’s Interior Minister also announcing that a probe would be carried out into the private ambulance company which transported the player to hospital, to determine if equipment complied with norms and staff were sufficiently qualified.
According to Cristian Pandrea, a doctor in the Bucharest hospital just beside the Dinamo stadium, no attempt had been made to resuscitate the player in the ambulance.
“It’s not the first time that such an incident has happened on a football pitch. The causes can be many and they will be revealed by tests which will be carried out later,” Pandrea told Agerpres.
The news of the player’s death was met with disbelief in his home country.
“We’re devastated. Words can’t express my sadness,” the president of Cameroon’s Football Federation (FECAFOOT) Tombi A Roko Sidiki told AFP.
“(Cameroon has lost another) promising young footballer,” he said, adding they had been counting on Ekeng for the 2019 African Cup of Nations hosted by Cameroon.
The FECAFOOT president lamented a death which echoed previous tragedies which “are multiplying alas”.
Most recently defender Gregory Mertens died three days after suffering a heart attack playing for his Belgian side Lokeren in April 2015.
“FIFA (international federation) is trying to take measures. We hope (they) will help reduce such accidents,” Sidiki added.
Romanian football also paid tribute to the player with all matches this weekend postponed and the Romanian Cup final between Dinamo Bucharest and CFR Cluj scheduled for May 10 put back a week.
– ‘A nightmare’ –
Dinamo executive director Ionel Danciulescu expressed his shock following a second club tragedy following Catalin Haldan’s death during a friendly in October 2000.
“I can’t believe it. It’s a nightmare. For me, for the team and for all Dinamo supporters. It’s too much,” said Danciulescu. “It’s as if we are cursed.”
Midfielder Ekeng started his career at former African giants Canon Yaoundé, and arrived in Dinamo in January after several seasons in France, notably with Ligue 2 side Le Mans.
Without a club at the beginning of the season he had returned to train for some weeks at Le Mans.
“Pat was still with us at the beginning of the season,” former Le Mans defender Gregory Cerdan told AFP.
“He was always smiling, 26 years, it’s not an age to die. It’s hard to believe. I’m saddened and shocked.”
French midfielder Morgan Sanson, now at Ligue 1 side Montpellier, recalled his former Le Mans teammate.
“He really was a good person and a good player. A death like that, during a match, is obviously shocking. But when it’s a former teammate it’s even worse.”
An avid reader and fan of Dan Brown thrillers, Ekeng was married and father of a two-year old daughter.
He played for Le Mans between 2009 and 2013, before being loaned out to another French side Rodez. He joined Swiss club Lausanne-Sport in 2013, then Cordoba, newly-promoted in the Spanish La Liga, the following year.
Ekeng made his debut for Cameroon in January 2015 and was named in the squad for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations from which the Indomitable Lions’ were eliminated in the group stage.
Praising Ekeng, Eto’o echoed the mantra of the Cameroon team at the time of Foe’s sudden death: “A Lion does not die, he sleeps. Football still needed you, but life decided otherwise. Rest in peace young brother!”