Marseille (AFP)

The stature and charisma of Pape Diouf had conquered Marseille and allured French football, which, from Didier Deschamps to Ligue 1 clubs, joined Wednesday supporters of Marseille to pay tribute to the former president of the OM, who died of coronavirus on Tuesday.

"His sudden and brutal disappearance deeply saddens me," wrote the current coach of the Blues, that Diouf had brought in 2009 on the bench of OM, allowing "DD" to bring back the title of champion of France l next year in Marseille (2010).

"Pope forced respect for all French football," adds Deschamps, saying that he "could measure his popularity, immense, with the Marseillais (...) at the height of his love for this city and this club."

All professional clubs have joined the tribute one by one. Christophe Galtier, former Marseille player and current Lille coach, recalled a "benevolent man", with many faces, "of the journalist with a magnificent pen, of the agent who had only one word for the great president Olympian".

The syndicate of the teams of Ligue 1, Premier League, for its part welcomed "a new emblematic figure of French football which disappears, a few days after the death of Michel Hidalgo".

The coach of the Blues European Champions 1984, who died Thursday - not of the coronavirus - had also been sports director of OM from 1986 to 1991.

A central figure in his city, Pape Diouf was even a candidate for a "citizen collective" in the 2014 municipal elections in Marseille, winning 5.63% of the votes in the first round.

- "A huge pain" -

The current mayor, Jean-Claude Gaudin, regretted in a press release "the disappearance (of) a lover of his city and passionate about football", which "leaves a great void in the hearts of Marseillais".

As proof, messages from OM supporters swept over the networks and many of them offered to pay tribute to him at 8 p.m. Wednesday by handing OM scarves to balconies and windows.

The Commando Ultra deployed a "Pope we will never forget you" tarp in front of its premises, and the group Marseille Trop Puissant (MTP) displayed "Rest in peace, Pope" on the famous pedestrian bridge of Cours Lieutaud.

"It's a huge pain for us," reacts to AFP Rachid Zeroual, the leader of the South Winners.

Diouf "was a great man, a humanist, who knew French football and football in Marseille, he was close to his supporters", adds Zeroual, citing "an episode very important for us, when he came in the gallery with us to Atlético Madrid "after a fight between supporters during a Champions League match.

Rarely, even supporters of the eternal rival, the Paris SG, hailed his memory, especially in the ranks of the Collectif Ultras Paris (CUP).

Tributes also came from Africa, to the president of Senegal Macky Sall, the country from which Diouf left when he was 18 to conquer Marseille.

At the margins of the football world also we welcome "the disappearance of a great servant", wrote Maître Serge Pautot, who was his historical lawyer, expressing his "immense pain".

- In the "Olympians paradise" -

It highlights another facet of the only black president of a large soccer club: his fight against racism.

"Together for twenty years (1985-2005), he as an agent and I a lawyer", writes Me Pautot, they fought "against discrimination, in particular that suffered by Africans" in football, starting with the Cameroonian goalkeeper of OM in the late 1980s, Joseph-Antoine Bell.

Diouf "was always concerned (...) with helping his + African + brothers, as he liked to emphasize," concludes the lawyer.

For all this, the OM Nation Dakar supporter group is sure that Diouf has joined "the paradise of the Olympians, surrounded by Depé, Hidalgo, RLD and many others", they write on Twitter, referring to Patrice De Peretti, very famous supporter dead at 27, who gives his name to the North bend of the Velodrome, and to the former owner of OM who had appointed Diouf as president, Robert Louis-Dreyfus.

"Pope, Hidalgo, we have also had deaths close to us, we know that this story is not over," concludes Rachid Zeroual, referring to the pandemic. "The first match will be sad when we go back to the championship," he continues. "We will have to pay tribute to all these characters who made the ball in Marseille."

© 2020 AFP