When Bolton announced a statement would arrive today regarding Fabrice Muamba's future, we dared to dream his miracle was about to multiply.
Muamba had already survived 78 minutes without a heartbeat. With fight like that, why shouldn't we expect him to continue his remarkable recovery all the way back onto the pitch?
Had it happened that way, it would have been the greatest sporting comeback of them all—a tale ripped from the pages of a Rocky script they thought too fantastical to use. "Muamba back from the dead," would almost certainly have been among the headlines.
But, alas, life—like football—rarely goes the way of Hollywood movies.
On advice from expert cardiologists, Muamba has made the only decision he could have made. He's announced his retirement from professional football, aged just 24, and will now live the rest of his life wondering what could have been.
This, as per his official statement:
Football has been my life since I was a teenage boy and it has given me so many opportunities.
Above all else, I love the game and count myself very lucky to have been able to play at the highest level.
While the news is devastating, I have much to be thankful for. I thank God that I am alive and I pay tribute once again to the members of the medical team who never gave up on me.
It's with great sadness we will never see Muamba mature as a footballer. We'll never know if he could have elevated to the senior England team, or made his way to a club side competing in the Champions League and in the hunt for trophies.
His career was full of possibilities, and now it's over.
What we do know, however, is that the lessons learned from both Muamba's sudden cardiac arrest at White Hart Lane and the response to it, will almost certainly save lives.
All we can hope is there's at least a modicum of comfort for Muamba in that—in knowing that his misfortune can serve to educate the medical community and inform the public that heart problems are not the reserve of overweight, heavy smokers in their advanced years.
His plight has, without question, made a difference.
"Incidents and events shape policy, shape developments, shape progress," said Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore (BBC) in the days after Muamba's collapse.
"Following the sudden cardiac arrest suffered by Fabrice Muamba we hope to shine new light on the condition and improve public awareness of heart rhythm disorders," said a spokesperson for Arrhythmia Alliance, per the Stratford Observer.
Muamba's legacy will extend far beyond medical science.
The courage, humility and dignity he's shown in recovery has served as an inspiration to everybody following his story and delivered some much-needed perspective to a sport that frequently gets lost in its own importance.
KEEP SMILING PEOPLE— fabrice muamba (@fmuamba) August 13, 2012
Muamba has also succeeded in bringing the football community together.
Tottenham and Bolton fans turned up that day in March hoping to see their team through to the next round of the FA Cup. They left praying for the life of a 23-year-old man in his prime, and with their allegiances thrown aside in an instant.
Fans from other teams were soon laying flowers at the Reebok Stadium, and Muamba's condition became a universal cause to unite the warring factions of the global game.
For a brief moment in time, the football family became as one. It's just a shame it took a near-tragedy for it to happen.
If Muamba's plight has taught us anything, it's that life is too short for it to be anything other than united. We owe it to Fabrice Muamba to carry that sentiment forward in his retirement, in the game he loves.
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