Saturday was marred for football fans worldwide with the news that Wolfsburg and Belgium midfielder Junior Malanda, aged just 20 years old, had passed away following an accident outside Porta Westfalica when a car in which he was a passenger skidded from the road into a tree in the midst of strong winds and heavy rain.
The talented young midfielder, a frequent feature in Wolfsburg’s first eleven and a promising prospect for Belgium’s already star studded senior international side, had been due to fly to South Africa that evening for the Bundesliga side’s winter training camp. He was survived by the two other occupants of the car, who were rushed to hospital and remain in intensive care.
While much is often made of the sense of international community in football, it is in moments of emotional adversity that true solidarity is found. Following the incident, an outpouring of support for and from family, friends and colleagues has once again demonstrated the remarkable sense of unity and shared respect for their fallen colleague. The statement released by the Belgian FA “extends its sympathy to family and friends” while the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, a Wolfsburg teammate and compatriot of Malanda, took to Twitter to memorialise his friend, closing with “You will always be around”. Alongside De Bruyne, fellow Belgium teammates similarly took to the internet to express their condolences, with Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois describing Malanda as “a huge talent and a great person” and Everton forward Romelu Lukaku calling him “my brother”. As well as his international teammates, Germany’s Mario Gotze, Denmark’s Niklas Bendtner and England’s Saido Berahino were among those to eulogise the midfielder.
The Bundesliga side announced on Sunday that they had decided to continue with their plans to travel to South Africa, clarifying that it was Malanda’s own ambition and professional attitude that had motivated the decision. Klaus Allofs, the team’s general manager, stated that, while far from an easy decision “we’re sure that it’s absolutely the right one. He [Malanda] wanted success, to achieve great things with us, and it’s the least we could do for him”. Playing a significant role in one of Wolfsburg’s most successful seasons in recent memory, currently standing second in the Bundesliga table, Malanda’s popularity was just as pronounced in the Wolfsburg camp as his prowess on the field. Allofs informed the press that counsellors would accompany the team to South Africa to provide support, telling the media that “everybody loved him”.
In these moments of adversity it is important to step back and appreciate what productively might come from such an otherwise harrowing situation. Particularly in cases where admired public figures have passed away in preventable circumstances, consideration is given to what safety revisions might prevent reoccurrence of such incidents. In the wake of Michael Schumacher’s skiing accident sales of ski helmets rose exponentially, as did cricket helmets following the passing of Australian batsman Phillip Hughes. In Malanda’s case increased focus has been given to vehicular care when driving in extreme weather conditions. In the minds of global football fans, the pivotal, potentially life-saving necessity for increased care and vigilance when travelling in such hazardous weather conditions has been heavily reinforced by Malanda’s passing.
As Malanda’s life and prodigious talent continue to be celebrated, the respect and united condolences offered by professionals world wide stand as a testament to the sense of community in football. Meanwhile the circumstances in question might yet have some constructive effect. Calling attention to a common situation, those driving in extreme weather might be made more careful and vigilant in the wake of Malanda’s passing, potentially saving future lives.
What productive might be taken from the untimely passing of Junior Malanda?