Cheick Tiote, the former Newcastle midfielder has died of a suspected heart attack while training with his new club Beijing Enterprise in China.
The Ivory Coast international, who made more than 150 appearances for Newcastle during a seven-year stay on Tyneside, collapsed at Enterprise’s training ground on Monday morning and died in hospital.
Tributes have poured in for the 30-year-old, who signed from Dutch club FC Twente in 2010 and was hugely popular with teammates and supporters.
Although injuries had taken their toll on the midfielder during the latter stages of his Newcastle career, restricting him to just three appearances in his last season, Tiote remained a charismatic presence at the club’s training ground until his departure for China four months ago.
Tioté, who was signed for just £3.5m from Twente, was a key player in the Newcastle side that finished fifth in 2012 and, in his prime, was considered one of the best defensive midfielders in the country.
He scored just one goal for the Magpies, but it was one of the most memorable in the club’s recent history as he smashed in a 30-yard volley to equalise against Arsenal in a 4-4 draw at St James’ Park back in February 2011.
His former Newcastle teammates were devastated to learn of his death and his former manager Alan Pardew insisted he was good enough to have played for one of Europe’s giants before injuries disrupted his career.
“I’m devastated to hear the news about my former player and friend Cheick Tioté,” said Pardew. “From the moment I arrived at Newcastle, he was a wonderful presence around the dressing room and his performances on the field often defied belief.
“There were days when he must have covered every blade of grass on a football field and it didn’t surprise me that clubs like Manchester United were being linked with attempts to sign him.
“None of us will ever forget that incredible day when our Newcastle team came from 4-0 down to draw an unbelievable Premier League game against Arsenal, Cheick’s wonderful late goal is one of the iconic moments of Premier League history.
“I loved him. He is everything that you want in a Newcastle United player. He has the quality, but never underestimate the fact that he wanted to win.”
Current Newcastle manager, Rafa Benítez, also praised Tioté character as he continued to work hard in training even though he rarely played for the first team this season before leaving for Beijing in February.
“It is with great sadness that I have this afternoon learned of Cheick’s death,” Benitez told the club’s official website.