UGO EHIOGU was one of the best defenders of his generation whose sudden death has cruelly cut short his promising coaching career.
The former England centre-back was in charge of Tottenham’s Under-23s before he tragically passed away the day after collapsing at the club’s training ground following a cardiac arrest.
Ehiogu was born in Homerton, East London, and started out playing for Senrab Football Club, where the likes of Jermain Defoe, Sol Campbell and John Terry came through the ranks.
He then joined West Brom as a trainee in 1989 where he earned £29.50 a week.
But Ehiogu will best be remembered for the nine years, more than 250 appearances and cult legend status at Aston Villa.
There he won two League Cups in 1994 and 1996 after joining as a “nervous 18-year-old” as well as enduring a heartbreaking FA Cup final defeat to Chelsea in 2000.
Ehiogu went on to inherit Paul McGrath’s No 5 shirt – the team-mate who took him under his wing- before Middlesbrough made their move in November 2000.
A club record £8million splurge by boss Bryan Robson was enough to lure Ehiogu and he formed a strong double-act with current England manager Gareth Southgate at the back.
Another League Cup followed in 2004 after a win over Bolton in Cardiff.
Ehiogu won four England caps, making his debut against China in 1996 and scoring a goal in a 3-0 win over Spain at Villa park in February 2001.
But top of the highlight reel will probably come the stunning overhead goal for Rangers against Celtic.
Ehiogu went north of the border after a loan spell at Leeds, before joining Sheffield United in 2008 and retiring in 2009.
The defender spent seven years at Middlesbrough all in all
Yet it was in his latest role as Spurs Under-23s coach that shows we have lost a man who promised to excel in the next stage of his career.
It was four years ago, when Eric Dier was still at Sporting Lisbon, that Ehiogu gave him some pointers as part of the England Under-20s side at the World Cup.
No one can argue now what a pivotal part of Mauricio Pochettino’s title-chasing side he has become.
He’s even picked up his mentor’s knack for scoring the odd goal, with two in his past four games for Spurs.
Though neither matched the instinctive brilliance of the one Ehiogu scored in the Old Firm back in March 2007.
Watch it again and there is no surprise it was voted goal of the season by the club’s fans.
But Ehiogu was so much more than the odd flash of magic - as shown in Spurs’ faith in him to bring through their next batch of world beaters.
Pochettino has displayed his willingness to trust youth in the form of Dele Alli and Harry Kane.
To keep that production line coming the club needed a man who knew exactly what he was doing.
Also one who was not afraid to speak out.
Ehiogu has been critical of England in the past. He said: “One of the main issues is that England do not have a DNA which outlines how they play.
“I played for England at Under-21 and senior levels and did not know how England were supposed to play, other than to pass and move.”
That would not be the case under Ehiogu. When he was assistant Under-16s coach, he praised Spurs’ “clear DNA outlined at the club throughout the academy ages”.
That was a theme continuing up until yesterday when the former star collapsed at the club’s training ground.
Ehiogu’s own Three Lions career – which lasted from 1996 to 2002 – could have been longer were it not for a list of stellar names in front of him, including Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Rio Ferdinand and Terry.
But that did not detract at all from a stellar club career – nor his blossoming music industry.
Ehiogu set up the record label Dirty Hit.
The successful brand now boasts the likes of The 1975, Ben Khan, Superfood and Benjamin Francis Leftwich on its books.
It was quite a change from the player who once admitted he “used to get a psyched up to a bit of Bon Jovi” before a match.
But Ehiogu, who leaves behind wife Gemma and a song, lit up changing rooms.
It was with “immense sadness” Spurs’ John McDermott, head of coaching and player development, said: “Words cannot express the shock and sadness that we all feel at the club.
“Ugo’s immense presence will be irreplaceable.”
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