Tributes have been pouring in for Enoch Muepu after the Zambian midfielder was forced to retire on Monday due to a heart condition, depriving him of a “bright future”.
Doctors diagnosed the condition after the 24-year-old Brighton player, nicknamed ‘The Calculator’ because of his reading of the game. became ill on a recent trip to Mali with his national team.
“Enoch has given so much in a short period of time to Zambia and we are indebted to him,” former Zambian striker Kalousa Bualia, a former African Footballer of the Year, told BBC Sport Africa.
“He had a bright future. Not good news, as a friend and fan of Zambian football.
“I wish him and his family all the strength in the world at this most difficult time. We will keep him in our prayers and hope he stays strong.”
Mwepu, who helped Zambia win a maiden Africa Under-20 title in 2017, captained the Chipolopolo (Copper Bullets), scoring six goals from his 23 appearances.
The Football Association of Zambia (Faz) spoke of its “deep shock and devastation” after Mwepu announced his retirement.
“This medical diagnosis leaves us with little to say but only to wish our captain the best in this whole process,” added Faz president Andrew Kamanga.
“We have been monitoring his condition since he was admitted to hospital in Mali and airlifted to London, and we were hoping for better news.
“While it is too early to talk about the next step, we will walk with him throughout this journey and wish him a full recovery.
“I have spoken to the player, who is advised to remain alone in the meantime to digest in his private life what has just happened. However, we remain at his disposal for him and his family at this dark time.”
In an open letter to supporters of Faz and Zambia, Mwepu thanked those who offered “help and guidance” during his career.
“I would like to express my deepest gratitude to all the fans who have watched and supported me – you have been simply amazing,” she wrote.
“But unfortunately, the time has come for me to end my professional journey and join you as a friend of the national team.
“I did my best to serve the national team with dignity, pride and respect. My biggest hope is that my contribution to the team made a difference.”
Mwepu has been unable to train since arriving in West Africa last month and spent four days in hospital. He underwent tests on his return to England, with the Brighton club saying the results meant his “only option” was to retire.
Tributes from Daka, Welbeck and the President of Zambia
Mwepu won four Austrian league titles with RB Salzburg and the Austrian Cup three times before that joined Brighton & Hove Albion for £18m ($20 million) in July 2021.
Zambian team-mate Patson Daka, who also played alongside Mwepu at Salzburg, said he was “sorry” the pair could not continue their careers together after the pair both moved to England last year – when Daka joined Leicester City.
Mwepu’s first campaign with the Seagulls was affected by injury, but he won the club’s goal of the season award for his stunning long-range strike against Liverpool last October.
In total, he scored three goals in 27 appearances for the Premier League club.
Brighton striker Danny Welbeck tweeted that he was “devastated” that Mwepu had been forced to hang up his boots.
“A great player and a really great guy,” Welbeck added. “Family and health are much more important than football. Enoch will shine off the field as well. No doubt!”
“Before I arrived I looked at the whole squad and he was a player I was so excited and looking forward to working with,” new Brighton manager Roberto de Zerbi, who was appointed just last month, told the club’s website.
“We will do everything we can to help him.”
Former manager Graham Potter, now in charge at Chelsea, added: “He’s a fantastic person so whatever he does he’ll be successful in his life but it’s a shame we won’t see him on the football pitch.”
RB Salzburg urged Mwepu to “stay strong”, while Zambian president Hakainde Hichilema also tweeted his support for Mwepu.
“Thank you Enock for pushing the boundaries for Zambian football. We wish you good health and God’s blessings in your next chapter,” Hichilema was posted.
Mwepu has never played at the Africa Cup of Nations, which Zambia has not qualified for since 2015, but there were hopes that he, Daka and Rangers striker Fashion Sakala could lead to a revival of the Copper Bullets – 2012 African Champions – on the continental stage.
“There is huge shock,” former Faz official Ponga Liwewe told BBC Sport Africa.
“His career was going well and he was one of the players we hoped would rekindle Zambian football and put it back on track. The loss of Mwepu is a big blow to the Zambian game.
“There is disbelief that a player who had the potential to be one of the biggest talents in Zambian football saw his career cut short.”