COMMENT: Tribalfootball.com's Xhulio Zeneli reports from Tirana on the local reaction to the sudden death of FK Egnatia captain and Ghana striker Raphael Dwamena.
Last Saturday was a difficult moment not only for Albanian football but also for our country and football in general. Raphael Dwamena's sudden death shocked us all and many in Albania are still coming to terms with his loss.
The charismatic striker from Ghana was a hero and club captain for FK Egnatia. His heart attack on the pitch last Saturday has left Albanian football in mourning. Just 28, Raphael was rushed to local hospital but he couldn't be revived.
Dwamena was hugely popular with Egnatia, having arrived to much fanfare after a career which had already seen him play for the likes of FC Zurich, Levante and Real Zaragoza. Also notwithstanding his nine caps with Ghana. He was someone popular on and off the pitch. With his fellow players - and also fans. It is no overstatement to say Dwamena was a well-respected person and loved by everyone at Egnatia.
But he had a history of heart problems, which did see moves to bigger clubs and leagues blocked due to such concerns.
In 2017 he was all set to sign for Brighton, but the deal fell through after he failed his medical due to his heart condition, so leaving him at FC Zurich. Another case was in 2019 when he was with Real Zaragoza. Local doctors there recommended his immediate withdrawal and retirement from football. In response, Dwamena underwent surgery and had an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator fitted in 2020.
Later that year, Dwamena signed for Vejle in the Danish Superliga, but after only a handful of games the club stopped him from playing due to heart issues. In 2021, Raphael signed with Linz and on October 28 during a Cup match, he collapsed on the field. And with that, his career in Austria was over. A point worth mentioning is that Dwamena would then have surgery to remove the defibrillator - and despite all the advice of doctors, he continued to play football and to follow his passion.
For almost a year now, Dwamena has been leading the attack of Egnatia in Albania. He was also named captain of the team. Raphael was loved by everyone in Albania and everybody respected him. His death has caused a huge sadness across the country.
Skender Alushaj is a popular barber in the city of Rrogozhina and a lifelong Egnatia fan. Skender has been attending Egnatia games every other week for 50 years and was Raphael's barber for these past 12 months.
"It was a day of mourning for everyone, as Dwamena was our symbol," Skender recalled to Panorama this week. "Dwamena was very friendly. He tried to communicate even though he knew a little Albanian. When you met him, he always radiated positivity, as his face was distinguished by the smile that characterised him.
"He was a man with a big heart, as he gave money to small children who called his name. Believe me, he used to go to the supermarket and buy products for them. He stood in line when he came to get his hair cut, respecting everyone. Rafa was special in everything he did, so the pain for him is great."
For this writer, this tragic event must act as a lesson for everyone in football - not only in Albania but also in Europe and the world. The game's health protocols must be stronger and the institutions involved need to act to prevent such tragedies happening in the future.