Former Senegal coach Bruno Metsu admits he has told his players on occasions that they were playing the match of their lives as he sought to motivate them, but now the 59-year-old cancer sufferer knows exactly what that feels like.
When he led unfancied Senegal on their FIFA World Cup™ debut during the opening match against reigning champions France in 2002, few could have predicted what would happen next. Not only did Papa Bouba Diop's goal defeat France in one of the tournament's greatest upsets but their unmistakeable long-haired blonde coach guided the team to the quarter-finals where the fairytale finally came to a proud conclusion with a narrow defeat by Turkey.
Ten years later in October 2012, after feeling ill in Dubai and being rushed to hospital, Metsu was told he was in a terminal phase of cancer and suffering from the disease in his liver, lungs and colon. "They gave me three months," he told L'Equipe after recently returning to France with his wife and three young children.
"It was an enormous shock. I was with Viviane, my wife and we were crying as we left the hospital. You think about your kids and everyone around you. I started chemotherapy almost immediately and when I went to the hospital I was in a wheelchair, I was so weak but there was no question of giving up.
"Often as a coach, you tell your players 'today is the match of your life'. But no, it isn't! Today, yes, I am playing the match of my life. I wanted to tell my story or rather my testimony. When I saw a programme on Eric Abidal, that gives strength and inspiration to others, that is a powerful thing," he said about the French defender, who has recently returned to the field following a life-threatening liver transplant.
Metsu enjoyed a modest playing career before an equally unspectacular start to life as a coach until his African adventure began in 2000 when he took over the Guinea helm for two years before moving to Senegal. He led the country to their first and only CAF Africa Cup of Nations final in Mali, six months before the FIFA World Cup, where only a penalty shootout defeat against Cameroon denied them a historic triumph.
Now his own personal triumph is in defying modern science and battling to live as long as possible. "When someone gives you three months, you fight to go further," said Metsu who has gained 2kg in recent weeks after losing 17kg since his diagnosis. "You tell yourself, you, you're not going in three months and if you beat me, it won't be easy.
"In February, we didn't notice that I had pneumonia and I had chemo on top of it. I stayed ten days between life and death. That was the most difficult fight that I have known. 90 per cent of people don't survive this situation but I had a incredible desire to survive.
"I have learned a lot about myself and family values. Today I can watch my children grow up and I have had nine months of happiness at their side and it's so much better than football," he said. "These kind of challenges can also bring a lot too. You see things differently. You take on a completely new way of thinking and how to be strong, like Abidal."