LONDON – Soccer mourned the untimely death of former England and Aston Villa defender Ugo Ehiogu on Friday, with England’s national team manager Gareth Southgate paying tribute to a “colossus,” friend and true gentleman.
Ehiogu, who worked as under-23 coach for Tottenham, collapsed at the North London club’s training ground on Thursday and was rushed to the hospital.
He died early on Friday of a cardiac arrest at age 44.
“Losing him at such a young age is difficult to come to terms with,” said Southgate, who played alongside Ehiogu at Villa and Middlesbrough for almost 10 years and was also with him in the England squad.
“Most importantly, he was a gentleman and he is one of those characters that people would find it difficult to have anything bad to say about.
“I probably played more games with Ugo than anybody else in my career and, while in many ways he was a gentle giant away from football, he was a colossus on the pitch.”
Ehiogu, who started out as a trainee at West Bromwich Albion but spent most of his career at Aston Villa, was capped four times by England during his career.
He may have won more caps if not for injuries and competition from younger defenders like Rio Ferdinand and John Terry.
In addition to playing more than 200 matches for Villa in nine years, the London-born Ehiogu played 126 games for Middlesbrough after signing for a then-record £8 million in 2000.
He won the League Cup with both clubs.
He also played for Rangers in the Scottish Premier League, scoring a winner against Celtic in the 2007 Old Firm derby with a spectacular overhead kick that was later voted the club’s goal of the season by fans.
He ended his professional career at Sheffield United in 2009 and joined Tottenham’s coaching staff in 2014 after a spell with the England under-20 side.
Championship club Villa said it would be holding a minute’s applause before the home derby against Birmingham City on Sunday with both sets of players wearing black armbands.
Tottenham, which is playing league-leading Chelsea in an F.A. Cup semifinal at Wembley on Saturday, will do the same.
The club also canceled academy matches scheduled over the weekend and postponed Monday’s under-23 game against Manchester United on the road.
“He was a person who always helped us a lot and we will miss him greatly. We are all in shock, it happened so quickly,” Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino told the club website.
“It’s a huge loss both personally and for all the Tottenham Hotspur family.”