News of Emerse Faé's retirement from the football game aged 27 came and went this week, largely unnoticed by the media as the Ivorian opted to keep as much of a low profile in heralding the cruel news as he did playing the game he loved.
Subjected to the same illness, thrombosis, which took his mother in August of 2011, the OGC Nice defensive midfielder had seen his amount of appearances in the French league gradually diminish over the last seasons. Repeated episodes of blood clotting in the past year prompted club doctors to advise him to put an end to his career as his life was now endangered.
His playing days had gone off to a great at start at FC Nantes, one of the household names in French football when it comes to grooming young players. Cast in the same mould as his illustrious predecessors in Nantes' defensive midfield, Didier Deschamps and Claude Makélélé, Faé formed the most resilient centre midfield in France alongside Jérémy Toulalan, the latter going on to represent France (notably in the botched 2010 World Cup) while the former chose Ivory Coast despite repesenting France at youth level, winning the U17 FIFA World Championship in the process back in 2001. Allegiance to his parents' country rewarded him with a part in the 2006 World Cup where the Ivorians were drawn in the ‘Group of Death’ alongside Argentina, Holland and Serbia before going out in the first round. This memory was nevertheless cherished by Faé who, when he was asked to look back on a career cut short, quoted it as one of his two best moments on a football pitch alongside a final – lost- in the French League Cup with FC Nantes in 2004. He went on to represent Ivory Coast 44 times, scoring one goal.
The substance of Faé's best memories, a group stage exit and a defeat in a final, say a lot about how little his talent was thanked by the football gods before he was cruelly thrown out of football before his best years even came by.
After the FC Nantes spell, he crossed the Channel and tried his luck with Reading FC, then a part of the Premier League. After a good start, he caught malaria on Africa Cup of Nations duty which was the starting point of years of injuries and illnesses which only came to an end this week with the announcement of his retirement.
He flew back to France and plied his trade in the sunny city of Nice, where he quickly gained back his reputation as a tenacious box-to-box midfielder with an eye for a pass. His goal in the last minute of the derby with Olympique de Marseille in December 2010 sent fans into rapture, his perseverance finally paying off. However, a bout of thrombosis sent him back to the infirmary, and though he managed to come back, a second one started to cast a shadow over his career, him barely aged 26.
Even a third bout would not manage to bring him down however, as he muscled his way back into the Nice line-up at the end of 2011, putting on Man of the match performances against Paris SG and Caen back in October. Interviewed after a match where he again demonstrated the full range of his talent, he said he «does not feel inferior to any of the midfielders in France's best clubs, be it Marseille, Lille or PSG ». This statement would have been construed as smug for any player but him, as a talent which once prompted observers to tout him the new Claude Makélélé shined through his every pass. Little awareness did he have during that post-match interview that it would be his last, as yet another blood clot forming in his leg called a day to his football days.
He announced his retirement on Wednesday with a composure and a discretion which pay a tribute to his playing style on the field. His frustration and disappointment transpiring at times at such an unfair plight, he said he would now move on to other occupations in the same game that gave him all he possesses.
You can find Igor on Twitter @Mladenovic_.