Senegal in shock after the disappearance of Pape Diouf

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Pape Diouf in Marseille, in February 2014. Jean-Paul Pelissier / REUTERS

It is 8 p.m. this March 31 in Senegal. The curfew intended to stem the Covid-19 pandemic begins. The Senegalese, confined to their homes, wait in front of their television sets for the latest information related to the epidemic. And they are not good: the national chain RTS 1 opens its newspaper with the first death due to Covid-19 recorded in the country. This is Pape Diouf, former president of Olympique de Marseille. The news was greeted with amazement. Because if Pape Diouf had been on respiratory assistance since March 28 at the Fann hospital in Dakar, his contamination was not known until the afternoon of the 31st, when his transfer to Nice was mentioned in the media.

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Until late evening, special editions follow one another. On the private channel TFM, the switchboard is taken over by football players, upset by this sudden disappearance. On Iradio, Mamadou Koumé, one of his close friends, cannot hold back his tears. The testimonies are unanimous: all speak of a generous man and a great loss for the country.

"A great committed leader"

His notoriety was certainly built on his role in French football, but many also recalled his contribution to Senegal. "I pay tribute to this great figure in sport, this great committed leader and the eminence of gray football", tweeted President Macky Sall. "In the shadows, he has helped the last generations that put our football on the rails. We got results because he shared his advice with the team and also gave a lot of support to the current coach, Aliou Cissé ", attests the president of the Senegalese Football Federation, Augustin Senghor.

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"His contribution to local football did not start yesterday, since in the late 1980s he brought coach Claude Leroy and then Bruno Metsu in early 2000, adds Saer Seck, president of the Senegalese Professional Football League. Several players for whom he was the agent also wore the country's jersey thanks to his support ".

On Twitter, messages from Senegalese players multiplied throughout the evening. For Mamadou Niang, now sports director at the Athlético de Marseille, he was " A model ". Habib Bèye, sports consultant, says he is losing a " dad ", while the international M’Baye Niang greets a " big man ".

"Very available, courteous and humble"

Magib Sène, a longtime friend of Pope Diouf, however, describes him as misunderstood, believing that he did not get the place he deserved. “In his vision of Senegalese football, he was ahead of his time and should have had more responsibilities. Maybe it was because of his strong personality ”, he confides. The former OM leader was known for his outspokenness. Behind the great player of the football, many also praised the qualities of the man. The journalist Tidiane Kassé, who had collaborated with the newspaper The sporty one launched by Pape Diouf in 1991, remembers a boss "Very available, courteous and humble".

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If Pape Diouf has contributed to the influence of Senegalese football and has been an ambassador for Africa, it is above all his players' agent and president of Olympique de Marseille caps that have made his mark internationally. . Beyond Senegal, French football as a whole paid tribute to him. Kylian M’Bappé, who plays at Paris-Saint-Germain (PSG), put aside the legendary rivalry between his club and OM to express his grief on his Twitter account.

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Franck Ribéry, Florian Thauvin, Benjamin Mendy and others have followed suit. Ditto on the side of the clubs. Olympique Lyonnais, Stade Brestois, AS de Saint-Etienne, in particular, sent a message of support to his family. Finally, the French Embassy in Senegal deplored "The disappearance of a Franco-Senegalese personality who marked French football and beyond the world of sport".

Pape Diouf, who regularly commuted between his two countries, left a big void there tonight. In Senegal, where he will remain the first victim of the Covid-19, his death also sounds like a warning about the possible ravages of the pandemic.

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