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Fate Was Not Kind To These 12 Soccer Icons


THE STORY IN SHORT VIDEOS

THE STORY IN SHORT ESSAYS

Icons 6 - 4: From the death of the “Lion” to the betrayal of the pious Christian man

6. Marc Vivien Foé: The death of the African Lion

LYON - JUNE 26: Marc-Vivien Foe of Cameroon attempt a tackle on Jorge Lopez of Colombia during the Confederations Cup Semi-Final match between Colombia and Cameroon on June 26, 2003 at the Stade Gerland in Lyon, France. Cameroon won the match 1-0.
LYON - JUNE 26: Marc-Vivien Foe of Cameroon attempt a tackle on Jorge Lopez of Colombia during the Confederations Cup Semi-Final match between Colombia and Cameroon on June 26, 2003 at the Stade Gerland in Lyon, France. Cameroon won the match 1-0. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Winfried Schäfer’s face is expressionless as he begins the train journey from Lyon to Paris. The German coach gazes into nothing. The fact that “Wild Winnie” led Cameroon’s national team to the World Cup in Asia in 2002 after only one year as manager and helped them win the Africa Cup of Nations in Mali is merely a distant memory during these sad summer days.

The atmosphere in the immense Stade de France of Paris-St. Denis, the destination of the “Indomitable Lion”, is similarly gloomy on 29 June 2003. Many seats remain empty, only 51,000 fans gather in the 1998 World Cup Final stadium. The football world is in shock – and mourns the loss of a lion. Marc-Vivien Foé is dead.

The Cameroonian national player with 62 caps and eight goals in his national jersey, decorated with two African championships (2000, 2002) and two World Cup participations (1994, 2002), has died on the pitch. While playing the semi-final between the “Indomitable Lions” and Colombia (1-0), Foé collapses in the 73rd minute without any outside influence, suffers a cardiac arrest and dies of heart failure about an hour after doctors and medical staff had fought for his life on the pitch.

When he arrives at Lyon Medical Centre, he is pronounced dead on sight. “Despite a previous blood analysis in the clinic of St. Etienne, he didn’t feel fit, but still wanted to play the game, and he didn’t want to leave the pitch when Winfried Schäfer wanted to replace him”, former France professional Gernot Rohr tells Eurosport on the day of the final, “some players of the French team, who know Foé from Lens and Lyon, are still in shock”.

Foé was considered a marathon man

26th June 2003: marc-Vivien Foe has collapsed on the pitc. Medical staff try to save his life.
26th June 2003: marc-Vivien Foe has collapsed on the pitc. Medical staff try to save his life. Photo: Imago

It is a tragic irony that Foé dies in the city of Gérland in Lyon. It was here, in the cauldron of the “Lyonnais”, where the sturdy African became a hero and a football icon. While playing for Olympique Lyon, he won the Coupe de France in 2001 and the Ligue 1 championship in 2002.

It all started in 1994. Foé signed his first professional contract – and during his first spell in France in 1998, he managed to win a sensational championship with Racing Club Lens. In 85 league games for Lens, the 1.88 m giant scored eleven goals until 1999. “When he arrived in Lens, he was a tough, unpolished player from Africa,” his teammate at the time, Guillaume Warmuz, recalls in a TV interview in summer 2003, “but his goals and physical strength quickly made him the leading player – and I was able to see the fear in the eyes of his opponents. After a short stint at West Ham United (38 games, one goal), he returned to France in 2000 and quickly became a leading player at Olympique Lyon. During the 2002/2003 season, he joined Manchester City on loan, where he scored nine goals in 35 games.

Foé was considered a marathon man, a tireless fighter and a meticulous football worker on the pitch, an introvert, a model professional who didn’t need many words, but whom everyone on the team listened to and literally hung on his lips when he addressed the team. His colleagues respectfully called him “Mister 100 Percent”. Foé’s interviews were rare but impressive.

“We are here to win the tournament”, Foé had said at the start of the Confed Cup, “we want to win back the hearts of the people of Cameroon, because we have been disappointing them lately. This tournament must be a wake-up call that we’re still here despite the poor performance at the 2002 World Cup. We don’t want to disappoint anyone here, we’re here to represent Africa.” In Asia 2002, Foé and the Lions of Cameroon had already been eliminated in the group stages after sharing a group with Germany and Ireland.

Cameroon remembers the "dead lion"

Coach Winfried Schäfer during the final wearing the jersey with the number 17.
Coach Winfried Schäfer during the final wearing the jersey with the number 17. (Photo by Henri Szwarc/Bongarts/Getty Images)

What made Foé so special was his authentic and sincere nature. His words were simple but clear and always reached the hearts of the fans in West Africa.

In a 2001 interview, Foé said: “It is an honour for me to be able to wear the colours of Cameroon, football is my passion and I want to share it with everyone”. His philosophy: “You must always give your best, you simply cannot disappoint the fans. When you lose, the fans want to see that you’ve given everything – those are the qualities of the Indomitable Lions.” Geremi, his teammate in the national team: “He always motivated us a lot because he knew how to use the right words at the right time. He has given our fans and the public a lot of his time, now he has died on the pitch – Cameroon will never forget him”.

No. Cameroon will not forget the dead Lion. During the national anthems before the Confederations Cup final against France, the players of Cameroon stand arm in arm with their French opponents, carrying a large portrait of their deceased colleague on the pitch of St. Denis. World champion Robert Pires is aware of the immense importance of these moments:

“He left us on the pitch, so now we have to enjoy every second of life.” The fact that France wins 1:0 by Golden Goal is of little interest on this day. At the award ceremony, all Cameroon players – as well as coach Schäfer – wear Foé’s jersey with the number 17 on their back. These are seconds that hurt. The fans in the ranks applaud with tears in their eyes, Cameroon’s football legend Roger Milla struggles with his emotions in the gallery. French captain Marcel Desailly and Cameroon’s captain Rigobert Song receive the trophy together. In honour of Foé, the shirt with the 17 has never again been awarded by the Cameroonian Football Association – just like the number 23 at his ex-club Manchester City.

5. Brad Friedel: Bad investments by the super goalie

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 16: Brad Friedel of Spurs gives the thumbs up during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Hull City at White Hart Lane on May 16, 2015 in London, England.
LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 16: Brad Friedel of Spurs gives the thumbs up during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Hull City at White Hart Lane on May 16, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

21 January 2011 is a dark day for Brad Friedel. The 39-year-old US keeper of Aston Villa is forced to declare bankruptcy before a court in Macclesfield, England.

Despite a weekly salary of almost 50,000 euros, the keeper with 82 caps for the US has accumulated more than five million euros of debt. Other sources even speak of eight million.

Brad Friedel surely had good intentions when he invested in the Premier Soccer Academies in his home state of Ohio in 2003. In the state capital Columbus, as well as in Cincinnati, they are building two football schools where youngsters aged 14 to 19 can train for free.

The system of football academies is still in its infancy, and Brad Friedel – on his way to the quarter-finals thanks to his top performances in the US boys’ goal during the 2002 World Cup – is just the right person to create a new feeling of optimism.

A vast, undeveloped plot of land

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 04: Brad Friedel of Tottenham Hotspur looks after conceding a second goal by Fabian Frei of FC Basel during the UEFA Europa League quarter-final first leg between Tottenham Hotspur FC and FC Basel 1893 at White Hart Lane on April 4, 2013 in London, England.
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 04: Brad Friedel of Tottenham Hotspur looks after conceding a second goal by Fabian Frei of FC Basel during the UEFA Europa League quarter-final first leg between Tottenham Hotspur FC and FC Basel 1893 at White Hart Lane on April 4, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

The expansion follows in 2005. Friedel acquires a huge, undeveloped property in Lorain near Cleveland for the equivalent of €677,000 – a true bargain.

The windy, barren site is the place where Friedel and his real estate partners plan to realize an idea of grandiose proportions: An elite school for US football with a total investment volume of nine million euros. The idea is for 24 football students to live permanently in Lorain.

Thousands of other young players are supposed to train there on a part-time basis to refinance the project. On an area of 11,000 square metres, the project’s plans include the construction of 20 individual apartments, conference rooms, multi-entertainment rooms, a cafeteria, its own laundry facility – everything the next big football star from the US might need.

The property at the renamed 2101 Brad Friedel Avenue of Stars is where the youth system of US football shall be reinvented….….

Several unconsidered factors

14 Oct 2001: Portrait of Brad Friedel of Blackburn Rovers during the FA Barclaycard Premiership match against West Ham United played at Ewood Park, in Blackburn, England. Blackburn Rovers won the match 7-1.
14 Oct 2001: Portrait of Brad Friedel of Blackburn Rovers during the FA Barclaycard Premiership match against West Ham United played at Ewood Park, in Blackburn, England. Blackburn Rovers won the match 7-1. Mandatory Credit: Gary M Prior /Allsport

Unfortunately, there are several factors that Friedel hasn’t considered. For one, the costs now already amount to around eleven million euros. In addition, Friedel – now 36 – is still playing in England.

The day-to-day business of the academy, however, demands his presence on site. Friedel doesn’t spend enough time in the States to supervise the administration himself. Then, in September 2008, the big recession hits.

The US housing bubble bursts, the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers triggers the financial crisis and plunges thousands of companies worldwide into a downward spiral. In the space of just one year, RBS Citizens Bank is demanding the repayment of almost ten million euros. This is compounded by tax debts. Friedel and his people fail to convince their creditors of the project in the face of a stagnating economy.

The academy is closed in 2009, and two years later the attempt to sell the property for 7.1 million euros fails. This would have enabled Friedel to recover at least part of his investment. No such luck. When it is finally sold in 2013, Friedel is bankrupt, and with a sales price of 2.4 million euros, he doesn’t even get a quarter of the costs back. “Friedel was not only ruined from a financial point of view”, comments football portal Topdrawersoccer.com, “a fundamentally good idea was also destroyed as a result of poor execution. Ten million dollars, simply gone up in flames.”

4. Bum Kun Cha: The unsuspecting striker that was betrayed by his “nasty” boss

Bum Kun Cha played for Darmstadt 98, Eintracht Frankfurt and Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga
Bum Kun Cha played for Darmstadt 98, Eintracht Frankfurt and Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga. Photo: Imago

In the summer of 1983, Bum Kun Cha, the deeply religious Christian from South Korea, has finally had enough. The South Korean, who has scored 46 goals for Eintracht Frankfurt in 122 Bundesliga matches and who has led the “capricious diva” to a UEFA Cup title in 1980 and to victory in the 1981 DFB Cup, gives the club an ultimatum. He wants to be transferred to Bayer 04 Leverkusen – and for the SGE to cover his debts.  

Bum Kun Cha was tricked by his own club boss. Whether it was the general trust of professional footballers in great investments, or the poor German skills of the Asian striker, is a question no one can answer today.

What is certain is that, at the beginning of 1983, Cha receives a letter with the file number M1204/83 from the district court Seligenstadt. The letter states that his salary will be seized. In addition to the powerful Frankfurt yellow press, which gave him the name “Cha Boom” because of his qualities as a goal scorer, he is now also the subject of the courts’ interest.

At first, Cha is speechless. In addition to the seizure of his income from Eintracht Frankfurt in the amount of 18,000 euros, the court also demands the payment of 23,000 euros in interest. Because Cha hasn’t paid anything up to this point, the loan of 100,000 euros that had been given to him by a bank in Lübeck for the real estate deal is due immediately.

“Grabowski bought, Pezzey bought, is also good for Cha”

Grabowski bought, Pezzey bought, Bum Kun Cha bought..
Grabowski bought, Pezzey bought, Bum Kun Cha bought...Photo: Imago

It is Eintracht vice president Wolfgang Zenker who convinces Cha of the real estate investment. When asked about the incident, he immediately plays it down: “Cha was simply careless. We fixed the whole thing for him straight away.”

He was probably forced to do so, because his business practices – in the Bundesliga of the 80s, yuppies and smart manager types had long taken over the leading roles in clubs from the patriarchs – had given Zenker a bad reputation.

His role among the managers and bosses in the Bundesliga business is unprecedented, is what magazine DER SPIEGEL writes about him in May 1983. Zenker himself plays the role of saint in front of the fans of Eintracht Frankfurt, which had been heavily indebted at the time: “I relieve the players, if they so desire and turn to me, of anything that could prevent them from concentrating entirely on football.

As head of the player contract division at Eintracht, he made sure that the players’ lavish salaries were cut down as early as 1982. When asked about his practices, Zenker played the innocent: “I’m not the only one”.

“This contract is immoral”

Bum Kun Cha in action for Eintracht Frankfurt against Bayern Munich.
Bum Kun Cha in action for Eintracht Frankfurt against Bayern Munich. Photo: Imago
Wolfgang Zenker – As sales director of “Südwestdeutsche Unternehmens- und Finanzierungsberatungsgesellschaft mbH” (Südfinanz), he has sold high-risk construction projects to around 80 professional footballers.

At the “usual commissions”, as Rolls Royce owner Zenker likes to emphasize. That is far from true, as Cha’s no less infamous advisor Holger Klemme finds out when reviewing the contracts. Zenker’s share is 40 percent of the total sales amount….When the striker moves from SV Darmstadt 98 to Eintracht in 1979, Zenker sells him two houses in Velbert. At a price of 450,000 euros – including a mortgage of 300,000 euros. All it takes is one clumsy sentence to convince the good-natured star: “Grabowski bought, Pezzey bought, is also good for Cha.” The thing is, it wasn’t good for Cha. “This contract is immoral,” says Holger Klemme. “Bum Kun Cha was gutted like a Christmas goose.”

He wasn’t the only one. Eintracht keeper Jürgen Pahl is also forced to accept a loss of more than 35,000 euros after having been sold on a real estate investment. “He told me I could only sign my player contract on the condition that I buy the property from him,” Pahl complains later in SPIEGEL. In the case of his client Cha, Holger Klemme has to admit: “His only option is to sell the houses at a considerable loss. He is virtually broke.”

In the end, Bum Kun Cha eventually forces his transfer to Leverkusen, wins the UEFA Cup again with the Bayer squad in 1988. Later he becomes a manager in his homeland and leads the South Korean national team to the 1998 World Cup. In the end, he got lucky things didn’t turn out worse for him.

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