This column is usually focused on Manchester’s top two clubs, United and City, often debating the big events at Old Trafford and Eastlands after a weekend of action.
However, this weekend a dark shadow loomed over the football world, one that put the game into perspective and saw every person connected with the sport pray for one of football’s struggling sons.
Fabrice Muamba, Bolton’s combative central midfielder, suffered a cardiac arrest during Saturday’s F.A. Cup clash with Spurs and was fighting for his life in hospital that evening after his heart stopped for two hours.
The tragic incident caused an outpouring of emotional support towards the England under-21 international, who has responded by battling to stay alive.
On Saturday evening Muamba was taken to the London Chest Hospital in Bethnal Green where doctors worked day and night to try and stabilise the 23-year-old’s condition.
On Sunday the Democratic of Congo born player remained in a critical state under anaesthetic in intensive care. The football family offered its unrelenting support towards Muamba, as well-wishers took to social media sites as the words #prayformuamba trended worlwide on Twitter.
Good will extended to the football pitch too, as Sunday’s cup clash between Chelsea and Leicester saw Gary Cahill, Muamba’s former Bolton team-mate, dedicate his 12th minute goal to his stricken friend, with a message under his shirt reading ‘PRAY 4 MUAMBA’.
Sunday evening’s La Liga clash between Real Madrid and Malaga saw the capital side’s players take to the field wearing shirts with the message ‘GET WELL SOON MUAMBA’ emblazoned on them. A sentiment echoed throughout the football world.
On Monday it was revealed that Muamba’s heart was beating without medication and that he had begun moving his arms and legs. During the afternoon his state improved, and by the evening the hospital were able to downgrade his condition from critical to serious.
Muamba was able to to recognise close family members and speak short phrases in English and French on Monday night, and by Tuesday morning further positive progress was emanating from East London. These early signs of recovery are a welcome relief from the tragic scenes seen at White Hart Lane over the weekend.
Players, fans and officials looked on aghast just after 6pm on Saturday as Muamba fell to the floor, suffering a suspected heart attack. Spurs and Bolton players immediately grasped the gravity of the situation, the player receiving rapid treatment from both club’s doctors and the tie being called off by referee Howard Webb shortly after.
The muted applause heard around the ground was a credit to the fans and the game, as news began to filter out that an apparently fit and healthy young footballer could suffer such a disastrous and unexpected trauma.
Muamba’s sorry tragedy has put the importance of football firmly in perspective, as influential figures across sport forgot their club allegiances to wish the Bolton star well in his battle to recovery.
Spurs midfielder Rafael Van der Vaart labelled the incident as his ‘worst moment in football’, close friend of Muamba’s, Jermain Defoe, said: “I thank God Fabrice is stable”, and Bolton chairman Phil Gartside made a statement appreciating those who wished his player well.
Football now awaits further news from the hospital of the situation, hoping to hear signs of early progress maintained. You can be sure Muamba will battle for his life, as he is a man that is no stranger to fighting adversity.
He arrived in England as an 11-year-old in 1999 after fleeing the war torn Congolese city of Kinshasa amid one of the most brutal civil wars seen in African history. The young Fabrice became re-united with his father after a five year absence, who was forced to leave the country due to his connections with the usurped Prime Minister Leon Kengowa Dondo.
Muamba came to England with his mother and spoke no English when he landed at Heathrow Airport, but carried with him memories of falling asleep amid a backdrop of gunfire in his home country and mental scars suffered due to the murder of his uncle and many of his friends.
The Muamba family of six settled in Waltham Forest, East London. Fabrice was the quiet type as one of four siblings, and often remained silent at school for not wishing to be ridiculed for his poor understanding of the language.
It was on the football pitch that he made an impression, winning friends and gaining confidence. By age 14 and six foot tall already, Muamba was snapped up by Arsenal’s academy, who fast-tracked the precocious talent through their London Colney set up.
Early comparisons to Patrick Vieira were hard to live up to, but Fabrice became a Premiership player in earnest in 2008 when he moved to Bolton for £5million, after a loan spell at Birmingham City.
Muamba has continued to impress at the Lancashire club, making over 125 appearances in three and half seasons. Living in Wilmslow, Cheshire, Fabrice became engaged on Valentine’s day and has a son with partner Shauna named Joshua.
Everyone connected to football and sport in general is hoping that Fabrice Muamba makes a swift and comprehensive recovery, as this well-liked young man battles against difficult times yet again in his life.
Follow James on Twitter @jdickenson2010