Cape Town - Belgium Under-21 international Gregory Mertens
died on Thursday, three days after collapsing with heart failure during a
match, a spokesperson for his club, Lokeren, said.
The 24-year-old defender had been in a coma since going into
cardiac arrest early in a reserve team game on Monday.
Club spokesperson Herman Van De Putte told Reuters that his
condition continued to worsen and the player's family had agreed with doctors
to switch off the life support system.
"Much too soon must we bid farewell to Gregory
Mertens," the club said in a statement. "We are a football club.
Everyone in and around the club breathes football. But suddenly something
happens where we realise football is just football.
"Today is such a time... The medical team did all they
could to save Gregory but in the end had to recognise their impotence. Gregory
passed away today about 4:30 PM (14:30 GMT).
"His family were able to say their farewells."
Mertens, who joined top-flight Lokeren last summer after
nearly 100 appearances for Cercle Bruges, collapsed 15 minutes into the game at
Racing Genk and despite lengthy efforts to bring him round doctors quickly said
his survival needed a "miracle".
The death of a young man his club described as making
himself "indispensable" while never losing his "quiet
modesty" shocked many leading figures across European soccer.
Chelsea's Belgium international goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois
tweeted in Dutch: "RIP Gregory Mertens! Much strength to family and
Fabrice Muamba, who as a 23-year-old nearly died during an
FA Cup match in England three years ago, tweeted: "Horrible news that
Gregory Mertens has passed away, only 24 years old. #RIP."
A former England Under-21 international, Muamba's heart
stopped for over an hour during a televised quarter-final for Bolton Wanderers
at Tottenham Hotspur.
He survived and retired from the game, drawing attention to
the health risks young players can face.
"Shockingly sad," former England striker and
television presenter Gary Lineker tweeted after news of Mertens' death.
Manchester City said:"Our thoughts are with the
friends and family of @KSCLokeren's Gregory Mertens at this sad time."