Dubai: Viviane Metsu, the widow of former UAE coach Bruno, has paid tribute to her late husband ahead of the first anniversary of his death.
The Frenchman was best known for leading Viviane’s native Senegal to the quarter-finals of the Fifa World Cup on their 2002 debut, which they opened with a shock 1-0 win over then holders France.
He was also the first coach to win external honours for a UAE club and its national team — winning the Asian Champions League with Al Ain in 2003 and the Gulf Cup in 2007.
He died on October 15 last year, aged 59, following a year-long battle with colon cancer and is survived by Viviane and their two children, Noah, 8, and Maeva, 4, and two sons from his two previous marriage, Enzo and Remy.
Speaking exclusively to Gulf News for the first time since her husband’s passing, Viviane remembered the legend.
“He was an exemplary man, generous towards his friends and family and caring about the needs of others before his own,” she said. “He couldn’t sleep until he had solved their problems. All those who knew him can attest to the generosity and eternal good mood of Bruno.
“He had this personality and charisma to choose players he believed in, no matter whether they were famous or not. And he managed to convince them that they were of value no matter the performance or popularity of the opponent.
“In everyday life he was the same, he always paid me compliments and told the children that they were the best, even if they were finding it difficult at school.
“Our children will remember him as a wonderful father, attentive and funny. It is still hard for me and the kids to realise that he is gone forever.”
The former Lille and Nice attacking midfielder was only three months into his tenure with Dubai club Al Wasl — where he replaced Argentine legend Diego Maradona in July 2012 — when he was given a terminal diagnosis.
Within a year he had succumbed to the disease in his hometown of Coudekerque-Village in northern France, and he was given an Islamic burial in Yoff, Senegal, having converted to Islam when he took the name Abdul Karim.
“We first met in Italy,” she added. “He told me afterwards that, when he first saw me, he realised that I was the one he had always been waiting for. I was thinking the same thing when I saw him. There are things we cannot describe.
“I can say that I lived 10 wonderful years by his side. He told me the same thing in the hospital when he knew he only had a few days to live. His last words will remain engraved in me forever. He knew that I was always there for him, for better or worse.”
Viviane said it was Bruno’s ability to fully integrate into the societies that he coached — adopting the habits of the country, lifestyle and culture — that enabled him to achieve such unlikely results.
“He always used to say: ‘A good coach must know his players’. He knew how to handle them, with some he even behaved like a father. He had this power of listening, advising and laughing, while doing his duties in the most serious way. They all had respect for him because he knew perfectly how to distinguish things.
“All his achievements were great. And he used to recall them with such energy and enthusiasm that it almost felt as if we were reliving those moments.
“He would remember, with such pride, the happiness he brought the UAE when his Al Ain side won the Champions League, or the explosion of joy when Esmail Mattar’s last-minute goal won the UAE their first Gulf Cup.
“Bruno loved working in the UAE and people seemed to acknowledge his talent, because everywhere he went they wanted to have their picture taken with him. He really felt at home here.”
Viviane still lives in Dubai with her three children, having set up an interior design firm in Jumeirah Lakes Towers. She divides her time between that and managing the Bruno Metsu Foundation, a charitable organisation that aims to help disadvantaged children in Africa.
“During his last days, Bruno had many questions about his life. He asked me to set up a foundation to help children in need. And I’m currently working hard to preserve his legacy and respect his will.”
She added that Bruno would have shunned other means of remembrance.
“Bruno was very humble. When I asked him if he would like to write his autobiography, he refused, arguing that no one would be interested in his life.
“I insisted and he eventually began narrating his story to a ghostwriter, but unfortunately he didn’t have time to finish it.”
Asked if Bruno would have appreciated a permanent memorial in Dubai to recognise his contribution to UAE football, Viviane replied: “Given his humility, just a simple plaque at the UAE FA headquarters would be fitting. It would be an honour for Bruno. After all, he was the first coach to win external honours for both UAE club and country.
“I often hear people who worked with Bruno saying that they learnt a lot from him and that he will remain in their memory. These testimonials are proof that Bruno has left an indelible legacy, that of a great person and a great coach.
“I would like to add that Bruno had very much appreciated the assistance of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, who kindly paid his medical bills throughout his year-long battle against cancer.
“I have written a long letter thanking Shaikh Mohammad that is still in my possession — not knowing which address to send it to, so I would like to take advantage with this article to reiterate my gratefulness.
“I also thank Obaid Al Shamsi, who knew Bruno from the UAE FA and who visited Bruno the day before his repatriation to France. He is like a father to me. I also thank Bruno’s former player Mohammad Omar, who still calls to inquire how me and the children are doing.
“It was Bruno’s wish to be buried beside my father in the Muslim Cemetery of Yoff in Senegal. I had to respect that as he reiterated it to me twice. The legends remain in our memories no matter where they rest forever.”