Tributes have been paid to former Newcastle United midfielder Cheick Tiote after his sudden death at the age of 30.
The Ivory Coast international suffered a heart attack during a training session with Chinese club Beijing Enterprise on Monday.
It has also emerged that the partner of the father of three is expecting a baby in the coming weeks.
Tiote left Newcastle in February after nearly seven years at St James’ Park, during which time he made 156 appearances and scored one goal.
But it is that goal for which he will be best remembered, a stunning, 30-yard volley to complete one of the great Premier League comebacks as the Magpies drew 4-4 at home to Arsenal having been 4-0 down at half time.
Alan Pardew managed Tiote for four years and said: ‘From the moment I arrived at Newcastle, Cheick 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 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 we came from 4-0 down to draw against Arsenal, with Cheick’s goal in the final moments one of the iconic moments in Premier League history.
‘I loved him. Life is not fair sometime and I will remember Cheick Tiote as a giant of a midfielder who I loved to manage. Rest in peace my friend.’
Current Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez said: ‘In all the time that I have known him, he was a true professional, dedicated and above all, a great man.’
Tiote joined Newcastle in 2010 for £3.5million from FC Twente, where he had just won the Eredivisie title under Steve McClaren.
Supporters could not believe how good the holding midfield player was and he quickly became a fans’ favourite, earning the nickname ‘Mr T’ because of his mohawk hairstyle and no-nonsense approach. Indeed, he was booked 56 times and sent off twice. That, though, was part of his popularity, the cards a byproduct of his commitment. At a club like Newcastle, that counted for a lot among fans.
During his debut season there was talk of a £25m approach from Manchester United, so Newcastle moved quickly to reward him with a six-and-a-half-year contract just six months after he had signed. He went on to help Pardew’s side finish fifth in 2012.
Off the pitch he was softly- spoken but had an infectious smile and mischievous sense of fun. He was just as popular with team-mates as he was on the terraces.
That much has been evident by the tributes which have been paid since news of his death was confirmed on Monday afternoon.
Former Newcastle boss John Carver captured the mood when he said: ‘Cheick was a warrior on the pitch but a big kid off it. A real softie and a lovely human being. I’ll never forget that big smile.’ [Dailymail UK]