Tottenham Hotspur have announced with great sadness that their under-23 coach, Ugo Ehiogu, passed away in the early hours of this morning after suffering a cardiac arrest at the club’s training ground on Thursday.
The sense of disbelief at how an ostensibly fit 44-year-old has been taken away is palpable and the Tottenham head of development, John McDermott, did his best to articulate it.
“Words cannot express the shock and sadness that we all feel at the club,” McDermott said. “Ugo’s presence will be irreplaceable. Our heartfelt sympathies go out to his wife, Gemma, and his family.”
The former England and Aston Villa defender was on the training field on Thursday morning when he collapsed. Tottenham’s medics rushed to treat him while an ambulance and a medical assistance car were scrambled to him at 11.30am.
They sped into the club’s Enfield training centre, blue lights flashing, and the ambulance took Ehiogu off to hospital about 20 minutes later. The high level of concern was etched across the faces of every member of staff.
It was immediately plain that Ehiogu faced a life or death battle. The Spurs manager, Mauricio Pochettino, the assistant manager, Jesús Pérez, and McDermott had walked over to the academy fields to make their own checks on the situation. Ehiogu received round-the-clock treatment at the hospital but he could not be saved.
Tottenham said in a statement: “The club sends its deep condolences to Ugo’s family. Gemma has specifically asked that the family are given privacy at this difficult time. We should also like to place on record our thanks to all the medical professionals including those at North Middlesex University Hospital, Royal Brompton Hospital and Harefield Hospital for their care and support.”
Tributes have poured in from all over football. Ehiogu’s former Villa team-mate Lee Hendrie told Sky Sports News: “Ugo was such a character. He has always been that bubbly character. He was just a great guy to have around.”
Current Villa manager Steve Bruce also paid tribute to Ehiogu, describing the centre-back as a “bargain” signing by former Villa Park boss Ron Atkinson in 1991. “I played against him. Big Ron bought him for 45,000 - what a bargain. He was a great player.”
Stoke manager Mark Hughes also played against Ehiogu and remembered what it was like to face the defender. Hughes said: “He was a big strong guy, a big athlete, and you knew when you went up against him it was always going to be a difficult game. That is why, when these things happen, it is even more shocking, because you remember them in their prime. It is a real shame.”
Villa, for whom Ehiogu played more than 300 games, tweeted: “We are deeply saddened to hear of the death of our former defender Ugo Ehiogu. Our thoughts are with his family at this terribly sad time.”
The club added: “We will be holding a minute’s applause before our derby with BCFC. Both sets of players will wear black armbands as a mark of respect.”
Tottenham forward Shayon Harrison, who was coached by Ehiogu at the club, added his own tribute. Harrison, who is on loan at Yeovil, wrote: “One of the most genuine, and caring people I’ve ever met. An honour to have been taught by you, not only as a player, but as a person.”
Ehiogu began his career as a trainee at West Bromwich Albion before he was taken to Villa by Atkinson in 1991. He went on to feature in more than 300 matches for Villa and played in their FA Cup final defeat against Chelsea in 2000.
Ehiogu joined Middlesbrough for a then club-record £8m fee later that year and in 2001 he scored his only goal for England in Sven Goran-Eriksson’s first game in charge, a 3-0 friendly victory against Spain.
Knee injuries plagued the final years of Ehiogu’s career at the Riverside Stadium. He joined Leeds United on loan in 2006 and also had short spells with Rangers and Sheffield United before he retired from football in 2009.
Ehiogu subsequently moved into coaching and had been with Tottenham for the past three seasons.
Before pursuing a coaching career Ehiogu followed his other passion, helping to set up record label Dirty Hit, which boasts artists such as The 1975, Ben Khan, Superfood, Benjamin Francis Leftwich and Fossil Collective.
In 2010, he told Skysports.com: “I miss parts of football, I miss the banter, but I was lucky enough to have 20 years of playing and that was enough of training, playing and the discipline. It had taken its toll and my mind and my body were ready for a break.
“My love of football is massive but my love of music is amazing. You have people eating out of your hands when you’re singing, you have people singing the lines of your song.
“Basically, the only difference would be that, socially, when you’re a musician it seems that you can get away with doing almost anything you like. It is deemed as being what a rock star does. That balance needs to readdress itself but I don’t think it ever will.”
Ehiogu, who admitted he “used to get psyched-up to a bit of Bon Jovi” before a match, took his first steps into coaching at Spurs’ academy under Tim Sherwood and Chris Ramsey.
He had very much bought into the philosophy to inspire the next generation, which included developing a mentoring programme for young players to highlight issues around the modern game.
Gave a homeless girl £10 last night in Dalston.She didn't ask or beg.Random impulsive act from me. Not gona lie. Felt good. #dosomethingkind
— Ugo Ehiogu (@UgoEhiogu) March 29, 2017
“If you come to watch games at Tottenham – in particular at development level – you will notice how we try to play, in a certain way with a certain style,” he said in a 2013 column for the Daily Mail.
“My hope is to see an England team that tries to play flowing interchangeable football, that can mix it with the best teams through physique and technique. It’s the way forward.”
One of his final tweets illustrated Ehiogu’s kind nature. “Gave a homeless girl £10 last night in Dalston. She didn’t ask or beg. Random impulsive act from me. Not gona lie. Felt good. #dosomethingkind”. The #dosomethingkind hashtag has since been trending on Twitter, with many people making generous gestures in the former footballer’s memory.
Ehiogu leaves behind his wife, Gemma, and a son.