I liked Marc Vivien Foe from the moment I met him. Always smiling, he insisted he looked at the picture the photographer had just taken as he came off the training pitch. ‘It looks OK,’ I suggested. He smiled at me and said, ‘It’s rubbish.’ Winked and walked off to get a shower. Within a year of this interview, he was dead. It remains one of my favourites…
In his floppy Stone Roses-style hat, stylish clothes and baggy jeans, Cameroon international midfielder Marc Vivien Foe – ‘Marco’ – to his team-mates, already looks like an adopted Mancunian.
Tall and slim with a cool demeanour, this is a player whose style off the pitch matches that on it and he has the pedigree to become a big favourite over the coming months.
He arrived at Maine Road in July this summer on a twelve-month loan from French champions Olympique Lyonnais. The deal will cost the Blues £550,000 but it could well prove to be a small price to pay for such an experienced and influential player.
He’s played Champions League football and appeared at two World Cups for the indomitable Lions – and he’s still only 27-years-old.
City will have the initial option of making Foe’s transfer a permanent deal at the end of the loan period and with praise from Kevin Keegan still fresh in the memory, the ball-winner has every chance of becoming a regular fixture in the Blues’ engine room for many years to come.
Before we started the interview, I asked to confirm one thing: hyphen or no hyphen?
“It’s just Marc Vivien Foe,” he said. “No hyphen.” So, Marc Vivien Foe it was.
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The interview began…
“I’m committed to playing a certain type of football and that is why Foe’s signing is very important,” enthused Keegan. “You’ve got to have someone in there to marshal the troops and Marc is a player who will certainly do that.”
Foe is one of Cameroon’s most experienced players having won his first cap aged just 18-years-old. The total of sixty caps he has won is all the more impressive when it is taken into consideration that he missed out on many more due to a nasty injury.
Indeed, he could even have ended up playing at Old Trafford after actually putting pen to paper on a non-binding agreement with Manchester United in 1998.
A broken leg meant that because the United deal had not been fully finalised it consequently fell through and it also put paid to his France ’98 World Cup ambitions. It must have been a particularly crushing blow for Marco to take, especially as he had earned his living in France for much of his career but all the disappointment is now confined to the past.
He finally ended up in Manchester – this time the blue half of the city – and his early performances for City suggest he will be a tremendous asset to the club in the tough months ahead.
He was just 19-years-old when he played his first World Cup at USA ’94 and is undoubtedly the driving force behind the Cameroon side. He helped Lens win the French League before an 18-month spell in the English Premiership with West Ham United. His arrive at Upton Park was overshadowed slightly by controversial Italian striker Paolo Di Canio joining the Hammers at the same time.
Marco never really settled in London and was on the verge of a move to Liverpool 1999, but like the United deal, it fell through in the latter stages. He returned to France in a £6million deal that saw Freddie Kanoute travel in the opposite direction. A tough-tackling, athletic footballer, Foe was a key part in helping Olympique Lyonnais to win last season’s championship.
A veteran of the Japan/Korea World Cup, where he played all three games, and a key member of Cameroon’s successful African Nations Cup defence earlier this year, Marco brings the kind of ability with him that caused Keegan to say he was an absolutely crucial signing. He has set himself high standards and was none too pleased with City’s opening defeat at Leeds.
“Of course, everybody was disappointed about what happened in the first game. Not winning the game was a bad thing but we all need to keep smiling and think about the next game. We have to be strong,” he said.
Fellow countryman Lucien Mettomo is now in his second season with City and it seems pertinent to suggest that he may have played a large part in Marco’s arrival at the club but surprisingly, it didn’t.
“Not really, because I knew a lot of people at City already,” he revealed, “I know Eyal Berkovic, Stuart Pearce and Paulo Wanchope from my time at West Ham and I also know Ali Benarbia and Nicolas Anelka because we used to meet up a lot in Paris.
“I am looking forward to the season ahead with City and feel fresh and ready to go. I haven’t had as long a break as some players because of the World Cup but I feel great and I am a professional. I already knew Manchester before I signed for City because I spent 20 days here when I nearly signed for United.
“It was a nice place then but in four years it has changed a lot. It seems to be a much bigger city now. I’m looking forward to learning from a man like Kevin Keegan who was a great player and it will be a very good experience for me to be around him.”
Marco’s wife and children will be joining him in Manchester shortly. They are in the process of finding a house and he is understandably keen to have his family alongside him as soon as possible.
His two youngsters, Scott and Leslie aged seven and four years old respectively, love sport but he doesn’t believe they are likely to follow in his footsteps.
“They prefer basketball,” he says with a broad smile, “but then, I love baseball as well. The New York Yankees are my team.”
Foe was only recently cleared to play in the opening games for City after initially being handed a four-match ban. He was sent off twice whilst he was with West Ham, but that was more than two years ago and the FA finally agreed City’s protest should be upheld because such bans last for no longer than a year.
Foe is a strong believer in teamwork and aims to let his efforts out on the pitch do the talking for him in the coming months.
“The most important thing for me is that we play for each other,” he said. “I think we have to fight for each other because as long as we all stick together we’ll get some good results.
“My job is to work hard in midfield and I’m happy to have players like Ali and Eyal around me. I have to work hard for them so that I can get the ball to them to score and make goals. If you want to be successful you have to work hard. I think we will do well this season.”
What happened next: Marco proved a big hit during the 2002/03 season and his presence grew throughout the campaign. A towering presence in midfield, he would play 38 times and score nine goals. Fittingly, his 80th-minute goal against Sunderland in the penultimate match at Maine Road proved to be the last City goal ever scored at our former home of 80 years. Just two months later, Marco had died representing Cameroon in the Confederations Cup. He was just 28.
Main picture courtesy © Kevin Cummins