Fabrice Muamba's fiancess has issued an emotional appeal for the football world to pray for the Bolton Wanderers midfielder as he remained in a critical condition in hospital after collapsing during Saturday’s FA Cup tie against Tottenham.
Muamba, who became engaged to girlfriend Shauna Magunda on Valentine’s Day, has been in intensive care at the London Chest Hospital since being admitted on Saturday evening after suffering a cardiac arrest in the 41st-minute of the sixth-round game at White Hart Lane, which was abandoned by referee Howard Webb.
The 23 year-old’s plight has prompted a huge reaction across the global football community and Shauna issued her plea for continued prayers through her Twitter account on Sunday night: “Please keep praying for @fmuamba its really helping I can feel it xx.”
The call was echoed by former Bolton captain Gary Cahill, who displayed a “Pray 4 Muamba” T-shirt after scoring in Chelsea's FA Cup win against Leicester City on Sunday.
Real Madrid players last night wore shirts before their Spanish League match wishing Muamba well.
Bolton’s Premier League fixture against Aston Villa at Villa Park, which was scheduled for Tuesday, has been postponed and although a withdrawal from the FA Cup was considered by senior figures at Bolton in the immediate aftermath of the incident, it is understood such a move is not on the agenda at the Reebok, despite the potential difficulties – emotional and logistically – of restaging the Spurs tie later this month.
Referee Webb was stood down from his role as a fourth official at Sunday’s Premier League encounter between Wolves and Manchester United following consultations with a psychologist who advises the referees’ body, the Professional Game Match Officials Limited.
Bolton manager Owen Coyle, who remained at Muamba’s bedside with club chairman Phil Gartside for lengthy periods on Sunday, insisted that the postponement of the Villa game was a necessity.
“The players wouldn’t be in any fit state to play the game,” Coyle said.
“Football pales into insignificance at a time like this, and it is vital we concentrate our efforts on Fabrice right now.
"But the support that has been offered has been nothing short of outstanding.
"It is such a difficult and emotional time for Fabrice’s family and our thoughts and prayers are with them.
“It is important we stay strong. Bolton Wanderers is a family club and the response over the last day or so completely ties up with that.”
Tributes to Muamba have been widespread, with many team-mates and rival players tweeting their thoughts, and Coyle admits that the England Under-21 midfielder’s character off the pitch tallies with the sentiments being offered.
Coyle said: “It is all well and good having a God-given gift and being a great footballer, which Fabrice certainly is, but it is more important to be a good person.
“Fab is a wonderful lad, with a great sense of humour and a beautiful smile and he is well liked by anyone who has come in contact with him.
"Everybody is praying for Fabrice, which is very important, and that has been a real source of strength to the family. We certainly hope he comes through this.
“Our concern is Fabrice and Fabrice only and that’s what all our energy is going into – hopefully a happy outcome.”
Gartside added: “The support that we had from Tottenham and our own fans was fantastic – the staff, the fans, the players and the officials at the game – it was unbelievable.”
With Muamba anaesthetised by doctors in an effort to manage his condition, the player was visited by Tottenham forward Jermain Defoe and Arsenal defender Johan Djourou, a close friend from his time at the Emirates, on Sunday.
Coyle had revealed early on Sunday morning that the next 24 hours would be “crucial” for Muamba, with doctors more likely to be in a position to assess his reliance on medication following prolonged treatment.
Although it was reported locally in Bolton on Sunday that Muamba’s heart had stopped for two hours on Saturday, there has been no confirmation of this, although a joint statement released by the club and hospital confirmed that his heart was restarted after leaving White Hart Lane.
Supporters from Bolton and rival clubs left cards, flowers, shirts and scarves at the Reebok Stadium yesterday urging Muamba to get well soon. Managers added their best wishes.
“I am sure everyone feels great sympathy for the boy but we cannot be feeling as bad as what his family must be feeling,” said Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish.
“It must be horrific for them to be either listening or watching the game and see something like that happen and we hope he has a very speedy recovery.”
Roberto Di Matteo said he had spoken to Cahill before Chelsea’s game against Leicester: “He was shaken like the whole football community and our thoughts and prayers go to the family of Fabrice.”
Spurs manager Harry Redknapp joined Coyle in praising the compassion shown to Muamba by both sets of supporters on Saturday.
South Wales Police have confirmed that one man had been arrested for posting racially offensive comments on Twitter in relation to the Bolton midfielder.
By Mark Ogden