Former Newcastle United midfielder Cheick Tiote has been described by Steve McClaren as the “toughest player” he has ever seen – but also a man with “the most beautiful smile in football”.
Ex-Magpies boss McClaren paid tribute after the Ivorian, 30, collapsed and died after training on Monday.
“At Newcastle if [Papiss] Cisse and Cheick were smiling I knew the world was OK,” McClaren told BBC 5 live.
“He was the kind of player that everyone wants in their team.”
Tiote joined Chinese second-tier side Beijing Enterprises from Newcastle in February. He died in hospital after collapsing at the club’s training ground.
In his seven years at Newcastle the Ivory Coast international made over 150 appearances, including three last season.
McClaren, who was his manager at both Dutch side FC Twente and Newcastle, added: “I knew him first as a young player at Twente. He was the toughest player I’ve ever seen.
“On the field and in training he was such a competitor. He wanted to win every game, kick every player and win every tackle.
“He was a winner. I just can’t believe it.
“Some days we would have to pull him out of training because he was such a ferocious competitor, such a winner. He was a warrior and could play too.
“It was his dream to play in China and I was so delighted for him when it happened. He earned money to look after his family.
“He loved playing football to look after his family. All the relatives, uncles, aunts, grandparents, they all relied on him to look after them.”
‘Everything you wanted in a player’
Another former Newcastle manager, Alan Pardew, said he was “devastated” by the news of his friend’s death.
“Cheick was a wonderful presence around the dressing room and his performances on the field often defied belief,” he said.
“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, with Cheick’s incredible goal in the final moments of that game [see top of story] one of the iconic moments in Premier League history.
“I loved him. He was everything that you wanted in a Newcastle player.
“Life is not fair sometimes and I will remember Cheick Tiote as a giant of a midfielder who I loved to manage. Rest in peace my friend.”
Tiote was part of the Ivory Coast squad that won the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations.
He began his professional career in Belgium with Anderlecht in 2005 before moving to FC Twente, where he made 86 appearances and won the Eredivisie league title in the 2009-10 season under manager McClaren.
Tiote, a defensive midfielder, then signed for Newcastle in 2010 for £3.5m.
He joined Beijing Enterprises Group FC for an undisclosed fee in February 2017.
‘A true professional and above all a great man’
Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez said: “It is with great sadness that I have this afternoon learned of Cheick’s death.
“In all the time that I have known him, he was a true professional, dedicated and above all, a great man. Our hearts go out to his family and friends at such a sad time.”
Newcastle’s current captain Jamaal Lascelles said the news of Tiote’s death had devastated the team.
“There are not words to express how saddened I am to hear the news that Cheick has died,” he said.
“I have spoken to the team and none of us can believe it, my thoughts are with his family at this time.”
Tributes on social media