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'Ugo was the first person to come and say hello'

Stan Collymore and others have paid tribute to the former Aston Villa footballer following the tragic news of his death.

A tribute to former Aston Villa player Ugo Ehiogu who has died aged 44, outside Villa Park.
A tribute to former Aston Villa player Ugo Ehiogu who has died aged 44, outside Villa Park.
Image: Joe Giddens

TWITTER IS OFTEN perceived as a toxic environment where bullying, abuse and ill-informed opinions are rife, but occasionally it can also provide an insight into the best elements of people’s personalities and this was true in the case of Ugo Ehiogu.

His last tweet was fitting. “Gave a homeless girl £10 last night in Dalston,” he wrote last March. “She didn’t ask or beg.Random impulsive act from me. Not gona lie. Felt good.”

Ehiogu was not only a talented footballer but a decent human being by all accounts.

In the wake of his death, former Aston Villa teammate Stan Collymore paid tribute to the late defender:

“I joined Villa straight after the 96/97 season ended and immediately went with the gaffer, Brian Little to San Francisco to meet up with my new team mates on a post season 2 game tour against LA Galaxy and San Jose.

Being “My” club I was so excited to get there ( Steve Gough of Cannock Villa was waiting at San Fran airport with the Cannock Villa flag!) so I got to the hotel , did a medical and Ugo was the first person to come and say hello, the first person to take time to welcome me to the club I supported as a kid. I was nervous, he knew it, and rather than be the alpha male that many of us players can be around each other, he showed me around, we hung out over the coming days and he was instrumental in helping me settle in. Going to Villa was my dream so for him to see that and just offer calm, cool friendship is something I’ll never forget.

“He was already great friends with Bozza and Dwight Yorke but wasn’t as loud as them or me, just cooler than cool at the back with a big smile but always up for fun and a laugh.”

Ehiogu started his career as a trainee with West Brom, who were in the old Second Division at the time, having progressed from the prestigious underage team Senrab FC, who also count Sol Campbell, Ray Walkins, Jermain Defoe and Sol Campbell among their famous alumnae.

After turning professional in 1989, he made two appearances for the Baggies before signing for Ron Atkinson’s Aston Villa side for £40,000 in August 1991 at the age of just 18.

Ugo Ehiogu File Photo Aston Villa's Ugo Ehiogu being mobbed by fans in 1994. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

It was to prove an astute piece of business, as the London-born star would go on to make over 300 appearances in nine years with Villa and ultimately come to be regarded as a club legend.

He gradually displaced Shaun Teale as the club’s main centre-back alongside Irish footballing legend Paul McGrath — a man whom Ehiogu later included in his all-time Villa XI, adding: “Despite all these problems, he’s never let anyone down on the pitch!”

McGrath in turn today tweeted: “Devestated for Ugo, a great friend. Heart goes out to his family and friends. RIP #villahero.”

Ehiogu made four appearances, including two while still a teenager, in the inaugural 1992-93 Premier League campaign, as Villa fell just short when pitted against Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United in the title race.

He made 17 appearances the following season and by the 1994-95 campaign, Ehiogu had established himself as a regular in the Villa side, featuring in 39 of their 42 league games that season.

The defender would go on to help his club win the 1996 League Cup as they beat Leeds 3-0 in the final, while he was also part of the team that finished runners-up in the 2000 FA Cup final following a 1-0 loss to Chelsea.

In November, the following season, he joined Middlesbrough for what was a club record fee at the time of £8million, making over 100 appearances for his new side and helping the team win the League Cup in 2004.

Leaving Boro at the age of 34, he played the twilight of his career at Rangers and Sheffield United, winning Goal of the Season for the former after a spectacular overhead kick against Celtic.

Source: Amwatson86/YouTube

Ehiogu won four international caps and would undoubtedly have earned more had his emergence not coincided with a golden era for English centre-backs — stars such as Rio Ferdinand, Sol Campbell and Jamie Carragher all came through around this period too.

After retiring, Ehiogu remained in football as an underage coach. He worked with England U20s boss Peter Taylor before linking up with the Tottenham Academy in 2014.

The ex-pro had firm beliefs on the development of young players, noting in 2013:

“In my role as assistant U16 coach at Tottenham, there is a clear DNA outlined at the club through out the academy ages.

That DNA is laid out and passed down from Tim Sherwood, Head of Football Development, John McDermott, Head of Academy, and the wonderfully experienced Chris Ramsey, who is Senior Professional Phase Coach.

“The way that Tottenham teams play is clear and all the coaches know what is expected of them. The emphasis is on technique at a very early age and the idea is to try and produce players who can progress into the first team, or go on and make a living in the game.

At international level, generally speaking, I think the players need to improve technically and apply themselves better, during training and games. This requires, adaptable forward thinking coaches. The whole English mentality needs to change, so we take friendlies and tournaments as serious as the other successful countries.”

Tributes have flooded in after confirmation of Ehiogu’s death today from a cardiac arrest at the age of 44. It comes five years after Fabrice Muamba suffered the same issue during an FA Cup quarter-final against Tottenham and miraculously survived though retired from football immediately afterwards.

The former Bolton midfielder put it best in his reaction to the news, tweeting earlier: “Yesterday I lost my friend Germaine Mason. This morning Ugo Ehiogu passed through heart attack. Cherish life it’s promised to no one.”

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