Messi is Barcelona's saviour once more as Griezmann flops on Atletico return Another player who was close to losing his life during a top-level match in England was Fabrice Muamba, who collapsed in an FA Cup fixture against Tottenham in March The former England Under international suffered a cardiac arrest and his heart stopped for 78 minutes.
His knees bent before he tumbled backwards. He went into cardiac arrest at 10 p. Eastern European time.
Eighty-five minutes later, the year-old Ekeng lay inside the nearby Floreasca Hospital, so close to "the hole" its higher blocks overlook the stadium.
By p. Romanian doctors declared him dead. That was not how it should have ended for Ekeng. This is his story. Patrick Ekeng began his football career on a dusty pitch in Anguissa, a neighbourhood in the fourth arrondissement of the Cameroonian capital Yaounde. Born in , to a mother who worked as a preacher, serving that role in her local church and in the media, Ekeng's passion was always football.
Ekeng played regularly at Anguissa; his mother and his friends sometimes cheered him on from the sidelines.
Officially a "stadium," the pitch in Anguissa is little more than red laterite earth littered with pebbles and rubbish and scored with the fading lines in white chalk. It is the training site for a club called Canon Yaounde, which Ekeng joined as a year-old in In the wet season between April and November, the pitch becomes a quagmire, draining into an open sewer that runs along one side.
In the dry season, red dust rises up during games, sheathing players so they look like sprites. The pitch at Anguissa where Ekeng played.
Around the sides of the pitch, women lay out blankets covered with deep green ndole leaves, a popular ingredient in Cameroonian cuisine. Others operate small stands topped by crooked umbrellas.
They sell juice, soft drinks, sweets, phone top-up cards and fresh sugar cane arrayed in white buckets.
Their businesses flourish during matches as spectators gather around, gossiping and exchanging views on the game. He was my idol. He would train almost every day of the week, run on Mont Febe, a lush jungle-covered mountain in Yaounde, and play matches every weekend, leaving little time to go out to parties with friends.
One of the goalposts at Anguissa. Alexis Huguet Millions of African boys aspire to make it as footballers, perceiving the sport as a way out of poverty, an opportunity to better their condition and that of their families.
During trials at Anguissa, dozens of children perch on the sidelines of the pitch, their school books lying forgotten at their feet, to watch the older youths undergo training exercises or demonstrate their dribbling skills.
Those local boys who do make good and reach the European professional leagues are household names; they gain a domestic status that borders on the divine. In Cameroon, the standout example of recent football success is Samuel Eto'o, born in poverty in Douala, Cameroon's largest city, in ; his mother sold roasted fish in the street markets.
He was named African Player of the Year a record four times. As Ekeng was growing up, everyone in Cameroon knew of Eto'o.
Many wanted to impersonate him; Ekeng came closer than many. A coach instructs players at Anguissa. The boy from Anguissa had secured a professional contract with a European top-flight side.
Ekeng lay motionless on the turf. Each minute that passed before he received proper medical attention cut his chances of survival by seven per cent, as per Dr Sanjay Sharma, a professor of cardiology at St George's Hospital in London who works with young adults, and consultant cardiologist for the charity Cardiac Risk in the Young.
In the crowd, Stephen Carpenter, a Crystal Palace fan from London visiting Romania as a football tourist, wondered if there had been an altercation or if Ekeng was "just rolling over like footballers do. Getty Unedited footage from a sideline camera operated by DigiSport, a Romanian broadcaster, provides a timeline of events that followed.
Eight seconds after Ekeng collapsed, his teammate Sergiu Hanca reached the midfielder, pushing past Dinamo winger Dorin Rotariu. Hanca heard Ekeng making strange breathing sounds. Liviu Batineanu, the Dinamo team doctor, arrived on 10 seconds.
He rolled Ekeng on his side, as though aiming for the recovery position. In the days that followed, the team doctor changed his story regarding his actions that night.
He first claimed he determined at the scene that Ekeng had no heartbeat.
Two days later, however, by which point the medical response was facing increasing scrutiny, Batineanu told Romanian journalists Ekeng had a pulse and was breathing when he reached him. The manner in which Ekeng collapsed suggests he went immediately into ventricular fibrillation, in which the heart has no regular beat at all.
The sounds Hanca heard were probably hypoxic gasping as the brain begins to starve of oxygen. Batineanu turned down a request to be interviewed. Thirty seconds after his collapse, the players standing over Ekeng and the crouched doctor were becoming increasingly worried. Valentin Lazar, another midfielder, raised both hands, one holding a water bottle, and shouted.
Paul Anton, a Dinamo midfielder, gave a rapid substitution gesture with rolling hands to the touchline. Ekeng's career in Europe was flagging after unremarkable stints in France, Switzerland and Spain.
In late , Bucharest appeared his only viable option. Bucharest is not where young Africans imagine playing in their starry dreams of European football fame.
But Ekeng would not be the first African player to end up there. He hoped that a spell at Dinamo could resuscitate his career. Before he could start playing, however, he needed to pass a medical. He underwent the same examination all professional footballers in Romania receive. The tests covered a variety of fields including orthopaedics, ophthalmology, neurology and dentistry.
Ekeng centre in action for Spanish club Cordoba in August Getty They also included cardiology. Dr Adriana Maria Marinescu performed Ekeng's heart exam.
Marinescu wrote the description "healthy from a cardiology point of view" on his report, signed and stamped it. An ECG test a device that records the electrical activity of the heart through electrodes placed on the skin found Ekeng "cardiologically normal," though Marinescu noticed "certain peculiarities" and recommended Ekeng subsequently undergo an echocardiogram—another test of the action of the heart using ultrasound waves—at a centre of the club's choosing.
Two days later, on January 14, Medas, a private clinic in Bucharest, performed the echocardiography; it was normal. Marinescu inserted the result in Ekeng's records; the midfielder received a six-month medical approval.
Marinescu was adamant the tests were clear. I've asked for an extra echocardiography just because I thought so. To detect them would have required a cardiac MRI scan, an expensive procedure rarely given to footballers.
Romanian medicine did not cover itself in glory when it came to both the handling of the footballer's death and the subsequent investigation.