Pape Diouf, former manager of Marseille, dies from coronavirus in Senegal

By Alexis Billebault
Posted on Thursday, 2 April 2020 17:58

Virus Outbreak France Obit Diouf
Former president of Olympic Marseille soccer club, Pape Diouf, poses after a press conference, in Marseille, southern France on Feburary 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Claude Paris, File)

A former sports journalist, a legendary football agent and former president of Olympique Marseille football club, Pape Diouf, 68, is the first Covid-19 victim of Senegal.

On Tuesday 31 March in the late afternoon, the news of Pape Diouf’s contamination by the coronavirus, announced by La Provence, quickly made the rounds of editorial offices and provoked numerous reactions on social networks.

A few hours later, a news item from Radio Télévision Sénégalaise (RTS) pushed away any optimism that had continued to prevail in spite of everything.

“I’m so sad I don’t have words. We lost our pope!”

Pape Diouf had died in the evening at the Fann Hospital in Dakar, an institution specializing in infectious and tropical diseases, where he had been admitted a few days earlier. Testing positive, Pape Diouf had been placed under respiratory assistance, and a repatriation to a hospital in Nice in a plane chartered by the French Embassy in Dakar was scheduled.

Alas, his state of health deteriorated rapidly on Tuesday, making this transport impossible.

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Tributes to the ‘Pope’

Since the official announcement of his death, tributes have been pouring in from footballers and political figures such as Senegalese President Macky Sall, who tweeted “I have learned with emotion of the death of Pape Diouf. I honour a great figure of sport, a great leader who was engaged  and was the man behind football. To his family, in the name of our nation, all my heartfelt condolences.”

“I’m so sad I don’t have words. We lost out pope!” wrote Dakar-based fan, Adrien Justin Lopez, to The Africa Report.

“He’s our president. He boosted Marseille, without him they wouldn’t have won the French cup (la Coupe de France). ….People trusted him so much. He brought Deschamps , Mamadou Niang and Ribéry to Marseille….He was the first black president of a European club as well. He grew up in Marseille as well , [so] he knew the city, the club. He had a great career as a sports journalist then rose to being the president of the club. Can you imagine! But he was extremely modest.”

First black president of a European club

Pape Diouf, who celebrated his 68th birthday on 18 December 2019, is the first person to die from coronavirus in Senegal. News of his death sent shock waves not only across Senegal, but also in France, where, as a leader, he was appreciated and valued for his open-mindedness, intelligence and sense of dialogue.

His rise to fame so to speak, began after working as a sports manager for a year, followed by his time as head of the football club, Olympique de Marseille (OM) from 2005 to 2009,  making him the first – and to date only – black president of a European club.

A reality that led him to make a “painful observation, in the image of European and especially French society, which excludes ethnic minorities.”

Under his watch, OM did not win any titles, but qualified several times for the Champions League, a sporting record that made him one of the main actors of the club’s renewal at the end of the 2000s.

In 2009, however, Robert Louis-Dreyfus, the owner of OM and who had appointed him chairman, decided to part with him, citing major differences of opinion with Vincent Labrune, the chairman of the supervisory board, his future successor.

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Army or football

His father Demba, who was notably a military mechanic for the French army in Chad – his country of birth – had decided to send him to the South of France at the age of 18, after a rather erratic school career in Dakar. He dreamed of seeing his son achieve a military career.

But Diouf saw another life for himself.

His father didn’t accept this, and the young man took on a series of odd jobs to survive, until the day he joined the daily newspaper La Marseillaise as a freelancer. There, he quickly rose through the ranks and became head of the football section, in charge of OM’s coverage, before going on to have two other less happy experiences in the profession, first with the weekly L’Hebdomadaire, then with Sport.

Cultivated, courteous and without irony

During all the years he spent surveying French and European stadiums, Pape Diouf filled his address book and forged friendly ties with many players. Once his adventure with the press were over, he organised jubilees in Africa for a number of footballers, before embarking – somewhat by chance – onto the role of  a football agent.

Joseph-Antoine Bell, the Cameroonian goalkeeper, and Basile Boli, the French international of Ivorian origin, asked him to defend their interests.

Pape Diouf accepted and created Mondial Promotion in 1989, before quickly becoming the agent of many footballers (Desailly, Drogba, Lama, Gallas, Song, Pirès, Coupet, Omam-Biyik, Blanc, Nasri…), with whom he always kept good relations.

Diouf parted from the directors of French and European clubs, with whom he sometimes spent long hours negotiating players’ contracts. He developed a reputation as a charismatic, courteous, cultured and attentive man, with an imposing stature, and known to be tough in business.

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Diouf the humanist

A journalist, agent, then president of a club with a reputation for turbulence and near unmanageability, Diouf still managed to make himself appreciated by the demanding OM fans despite the absence of a title, and he in turn remained forever loyal to Marseille.

With the OM page closed, he became a shareholder and trainer for the European Communication School and the European Institute of Journalism in Marseille, worked for the official Online Betting Authority and was awarded the Legion of Honour by former French President of François Hollande.

In 2013, in his book C’est bien plus qu’un jeu (It’s much more than a game), Diouf criticized the management of his successor at OM, Vincent Labrune, leading to a strong club reaction, accusing him of “attempts at manipulation.”

He also became a consultant for the newspaper Le Monde and television Canal +.

His eloquence and frankness allowed him to deliver  his thoughts directly, never hesitating to shake-up the international football bodies, including the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and FIFA.

His long stay in Marseilles will hardly be tarnished in 2016 by his indictment, quickly transformed into a status of assisted witness in the case of dubious OM transfers, but bad enough that he ended up spending most of his time in Dakar, before returning more regularly to Marseilles.

There, this humanist – a term often used to sum up his personality – was as fond of his walks in the French city as the people of Marseille were of him.

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