Rovers' Gilbert still in shock as his friend Fabrice fights for life
SHAMROCK Rovers star Kerrea Gilbert admits that not a minute goes by when he does not think about his friend and former Arsenal team-mate Fabrice Muamba, whose tragic collapse while on duty for Bolton Wanderers on Saturday has affected the entire football world.
Players from across the globe have been sending messages of support to the 23-year-old, who was still in a critical condition in a London hospital today, following his collapse during the weekend FA Cup tie away to Tottenham.
But London native Gilbert, who joined Shamrock Rovers last month, has been affected personally by the tragedy as he was a long-time team-mate of Muamba, with Arsenal and the England underage teams.
They only played together once for the Gunners' first team, in a Carling Cup tie against Reading in November 2005, when Gilbert made his Arsenal debut, but they were close for many years.
"He is always there in my head. I am thinking about him every minute of the day," the Dublin-based Gilbert told the Herald today.
"I am worried and I am calling and texting people all the time, just to see how he is and if there is any news.
"It's such a scary thing to happen, everyone just wants him to be well. And you can sense from the reaction in football just what a good guy he is. People who don't even know him are praying for him and hoping he gets well.
"Even though he was younger than me, I looked up to him because of how successful he was, as he got where he is today by working hard and I know that he never had it easy in life.
"I'm still in shock over what happened. It's not something you expect to see happen to a healthy 23-year-old. It has come as a shock to me.
"I am just trying to stay positive and hope that there is a good outcome to this. At times like this, football doesn't matter. It's not important if he ever kicks a ball again, as long as he comes through this and survives," added Gilbert, now settled in Tallaght with his family following his move from Yeovil Town earlier this year.
"I first met Fabrice when we were about 13 or 14, he was a year younger than me. I was already signed up with the Arsenal academy and then he came in, and we took it from there, we have been friends ever since.
"We were mates from then on. We played a lot of games together, with the Arsenal reserves and also the England teams, though we didn't have a lot of games together for the Arsenal first team.
"We haven't seen each other in a while now as we've been busy with our careers, him playing for Bolton and me coming here to Ireland to play for Shamrock Rovers. Even though I haven't seen him in a while I'd still consider us to be friends."
Tributes paid to Muamba by Bolton fans have pointed out that while the former Arsenal man was not the most gifted player in the squad, he was one of the most dedicated, a view that Gilbert echoes.
"He was a whole-hearted player, he never gave up and never let his team-mates down," he says.
"He's always been a good player, but he was always keen to learn about his weaknesses and work on them, and that's the reason why he's in the Premier League with Bolton.
"He always had ability but he was willing to work.
"Apart from the football he was just a great guy. He was very kind to everyone around him, young players or anyone, and he was also very religious.
"I know that people everywhere are praying for him and that will mean a lot to him, please God he comes through."