Former England defender Ehiogu dies

Ugo Ehiogu

Former England and Aston Villa defender Ugo Ehiogu has died at the age of 44 after suffering a cardiac arrest at Tottenham’s training centre on Thursday.

A Spurs statement said Ehiogu died in hospital in the early hours of Friday.

Ehiogu, who was Spurs’ Under-23s coach, was capped four times by England.

“Words cannot express the shock and sadness that we all feel at the club,” said Tottenham’s head of coaching and development John McDermott.

“Ugo’s immense presence will be irreplaceable.”

Ehiogu made over 200 appearances for Aston Villa between 1991 and 2000 and then spent seven years at Middlesbrough.

He won the League Cup with Villa in 1994 and 1996, and also with Boro in 2004.

The centre-back also played for West Brom, Leeds, Rangers and Sheffield United, before retiring in 2009. He began coaching at Tottenham in 2014.

Ehiogu was a co-founder of music label Dirty Hit, which has British indie band The 1975 on its books.

He married his wife, Gemma, in 2005. He had two children – son Obi Jackson and daughter Jodie.

Villa will hold a minute’s applause before their Championship match against Birmingham City on Sunday, with both sets of players to wear black armbands.

Meanwhile, Spurs’ reserve team game at Manchester United on Monday has been postponed.

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‘A tremendous person’

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“I can’t fathom he’s no longer here,” former Middlesbrough goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, who won the League Cup with Ehiogu, told BBC Radio 5 live.

He added: “He was a tremendous person, a tremendous character, a dedicated footballer and dedicated to his family. He was a great guy to be around, so full of life and so enthusiastic.

“As a centre-back, I rate him right up there. He suffered from injuries throughout his career, but with more consistency he could have added to his England caps.

“He was very much a family man and it’s such a shame to leave such a young family behind.”

Former Aston Villa team-mate Andy Townsend told BBC Radio 5 live: “He was a defender every team would like to have at the back. It’s a life that is so tragically cut short and so sad.

“He was on the training field with the academy boys and would have stayed active. I saw him recently and he was a picture of health, which is why this come as such a huge shock.”

‘One of our heroes’

Middlesbrough bought Ehiogu for a then club record fee of £8m in 2000 and he became a mainstay of the defence alongside Gareth Southgate as Steve McClaren’s side won the League Cup.

“Ugo was one of our heroes at Cardiff when the club won its only ever major trophy, “said Boro chairman Steve Gibson.

“Ugo and Gareth Southgate were the rock on which Steve McClaren brought the club its best period in its history. He wasn’t just a good footballer, he was a great man.

Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce, who played for Manchester United against Ehiogu in the 1994 League Cup final, added: “I had so much admiration for him as a fellow centre-half.

“He was uncompromising, quick and gave his all every single week – he was a great defender. All the football world will be saddened.”

Football Association chairman Greg Clarke said: “A hugely popular figure across English football but particularly at Aston Villa and Middlesbrough, he was also close to many at Wembley and St George’s Park through his England connections – both as a player and as a coach.”

Tributes on social media

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Ex-Spurs midfielder Jermaine Jenas tweeted: “Gutted is an understatement. An aspiring coach and all round top guy. My thoughts and prayers are with your family.”

Former England women and Arsenal Ladies forward Kelly Smith on Twitter: “RIP my friend Ugo Ehiogu, gone too soon. A wonderful, caring man.”

Ex-Blackburn, Chelsea and Celtic striker Chris Sutton‏ posted: “Really upsetting news about Ugo Ehiogu. Football has lost a great player and a great man. Thoughts go out to his family. RIP Ugo.”

Denise Lewis, Great Britain’s Olympic heptathlon gold medallist in 2000, tweeted: “Another sad day for sport with the death of Ugo Ehiogu. RIP.”

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Former Manchester City striker Paul Dickov said: “Devastating news about Ugo Ehiogu this morning. Rock of a player and a rock of a person. Thoughts and prayers to all family and friends.”

Former Middlesbrough forward Jason Euell posted on Twitter: “Still in shock from hearing of the passing of my former Boro team-mate. RIP Big Man.”

Ex-Aston Villa goalkeeper Mark Bosnich tweeted: “RIP Ugo Ehiogu. Tremendous player and an even better man. Words can’t do justice to how sad I am.”

Burnley midfielder Joey Barton said he is “shocked and saddened”, adding: “To think he was on the training ground yesterday. Thoughts are with his loved ones.”

Former England defender Rio Ferdinand‏ tweeted: “Can’t believe the news that Ugo Ehiogu has passed away. Calm & warming vibe when in his company. My heart goes out to his family.”

Ex-England defender Sol Campbell‏ tweeted: “One of my East London mates of old. Ugo Ehiogu – a true defender. My heart goes out to his family. I just can’t believe it!”.

England women’s manager Mark Sampson tweeted: “Thoughts and prayers with the family and friends of Ugo Ehiogu at this sad time. Rest in peace, Ugo.”

Frank Bruno tweeted: “Ugo Ehiogu RIP terrible shock shame he did not get more England caps and at 44 such a young age great servant for Aston Villa and Spurs youth team.”

Former Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel tweeted: “I am shocked to hear that Ugo Ehiogu has died. Football has lost one of its true gentlemen.”

Dirty Hit co-founder Jamie Oborne tweeted: “Gutted to hear that my friend Ugo has tragically passed away. I will always treasure the memories of our chats about love, life, hopes and dreams. Feel very blessed to have had you in my life, love to Gemma and the little man. Such a sad day.”

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‘A beast on the field, a gentle soul off it’

BBC Radio 5 live’s Pat Murphy:

He was a very unassuming, gentle soul to deal with – very softly spoken. On the field he was an absolute beast, a colossus, an animal.

Gordon Cowans, a former midfielder at Aston Villa, and Ron Atkinson, his manager at the time, often tell the story of Ugo Ehiogu’s first tackle at Villa.

In a pre-season game at Witney Town in Oxfordshire, he went into this tackle and Cowans, in the dugout with Atkinson, turned to him and said: “Did you see that?” He was such a strong defender, they knew they’d bought an absolute diamond for £40,000.

Atkinson knew him at Sheffield Wednesday and when he moved to Villa in 1991, he went after Ugo.

In his first game – Norwich City at home – he had a shocker. They lost 3-2 and Atkinson joked with Ugo that he was the player of the month – but he took it well.

For the next nine years, he was a tremendous centre-back alongside Gareth Southgate – a mixture of elegance, technical ability and strong, aggressive defending from Ehiogu.

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He was a bit unlucky with injuries – he only played four times for England. It was a good era of England centre-backs and there’s no doubt he would’ve played more if not.

He was still playing less than a decade ago, which shows how fit he was.

Ehiogu was from the school of hard knocks. When he was trying to make his way in the game, he wrote to about 10 top clubs looking for a chance but got nowhere – other than at West Brom, where Atkinson liked the look of him.

So Ugo’s career was a triumph of perseverance as well as undoubted talent and ability to look after himself physically.

He was a role model to a lot of the young players he’d been coaching at Tottenham because he could say he didn’t have a gilded passage, like so many in academies nowadays.

Ehiogu had to work for everything he got, as an international and a Premier League defender.

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