Former managers, team-mates and friends of Ugo Ehiogu have hailed the late defender’s personal and professional qualities after his death at the age of 44.
Ehiogu died after collapsing at Tottenham’s training ground on Thursday having suffered a cardiac arrest, uniting British football in shock and grief.
There was plenty of praise for his 20-year playing career but just as much for his character, fitting for one of the game’s more popular figures.
Former England manager Steve McClaren, Ehiogu’s boss when Middlesbrough won the 2004 League Cup, said: “I’m absolutely devastated to hear the sad news about Ugo. What a sad loss he will be to football and, of course, to his family.
“I only saw him a couple of months ago on a coaching course at St George’s Park, looking fit and healthy as always.
“I remember Ugo as a gentle giant of a man off the field, but a real warrior on it. He was a leader and he was well on the way to becoming a very good coach.”
Bryan Robson, who took Ehiogu to Teesside from Villa, said: ” It is a really sad loss. I know he was a good lad and a team man who would chat to everybody, so I always thought he could be a coach because he was good at dealing with young lads and was so proud in his fitness and everything else.”
Ehiogu played more than 300 times in a nine-year stint at Aston Villa, where he won his first League Cup at Wembley in 1996, a major return on Ron Atkinson’s modest investment back in 1991.
Current Villa manager Steve Bruce, whose side will wear black armbands and take part in a minute’s applause before Saturday’s Birmingham derby, said: “Big Ron bought him for £45,000 – what a bargain. He was a great player.”
Ehiogu’s former Villa team-mate Lee Hendrie added: ” Ugo was such a character. He has always been that bubbly character. He was just a great guy to have around.”
Ehiogu had a brief spell at Rangers towards the end of his career but left a big mark at Ibrox, in no small part due to a brilliant bicycle kick winner against Old Firm rivals Celtic.
Walter Smith, Gers boss at the time, said: “As a central defender, he may not be remembered for his goals, but in the time he was at the club I think all the supporters will remember him for that goal.
“It was certainly something to remember him by. He was a fantastic influence in the dressing room and was someone who was totally professional in everything he did.”
Former Bolton and Birmingham midfielder Fabrice Muamba, who survived after suffering a cardiac arrest whilst playing for the Trotters against Tottenham in 2012, tweeted about Ehiogu and also about Great Britain high jumper Germaine Mason.
Mason, a Beijing Olympics silver medallist, died after being involved in a motorcycle accident on Thursday.
Muamba tweeted: “Yesterday I lost my friend Germaine Mason. This morning Ugo Ehiogu passed through heart attack. Cherish life it’s promised to no one.”
Ehiogu played four times for England and was also part of the coaching team for the under-20s at the 2013 World Cup in Turkey.
Football Association chairman Greg Clarke said: ” We’re devastated to hear the news that Ugo Ehiogu has passed away. Our thoughts and sympathies are with all lucky enough to know him. He will be much missed by the game he served so well.”
Professional Footballers’ Association chief executive Gordon Taylor said: “Ugo was a giant of a man in stature and quality, a wonderful player and top-class coach who really cared about the game.
“Ugo was a most dedicated and influential member of our Black Coaches group and toured the West Indies with our PFA Legends team and was a brilliant ambassador for the game.”
Ehiogu was studying for a League Managers’ Association diploma in football management at the University of Liverpool and course director Professor Sue Bridgewater said: “A nicer and more genuinely lovely man you couldn’t wish to meet. An up-and-coming coach and prospective football manager, he had such a bright future ahead of him.”
Hull midfielder Ryan Mason, who came through the Spurs academy, posted on Instagram: “Words can’t explain how devastated I am to hear the news of Ugo.
“He had a huge influence on the young lads at Spurs while I was there and I can’t speak highly enough of him. All of my love and thoughts go out to his family and friends at this difficult time.”
Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte, whose side play Tottenham in an FA Cup semi-final on Saturday, expressed his condolences and those of his players and club to Ehiogu’s family.
Conte said: ” When this type of situation happens the football is not important. For sure, tomorrow there will be a strange atmosphere.”
Premier League executive chairman Richard Scudamore said: “Ugo made a significant contribution to the Premier League. He was as an outstanding footballer for Aston Villa, Middlesbrough and other clubs and more recently a highly regarded academy coach at Tottenham Hotspur. In Ugo, the young players at Spurs had an excellent role model.
“While he is best known for his stellar football career, Ugo was a great person who used his profile to support charities and inspire positive change in the sport and beyond. He will be missed.”