LONDON – Devout Muslim player Cheick Tiote passed away on Monday, June 5, after he collapsed during a training session with Chinese club Beijing Enterprises and died in hospital an hour later. The player has been mourned by football world as the “toughest player” and the man with “the most beautiful smile in football”.
“I knew him first as a young player at Twente. He was the toughest player I’ve ever seen,” Former Newcastle manager Steve McClaren said, adding that he was the man with “the most beautiful smile in football,” The BBC reported on Tuesday, June 6.
“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.”
Tiote was 30 years old, he would have turned 31 on June 21.
He was a devout Muslim and was known to observe fasting during the holy month of Ramadan which lasts until June 24 this year.
His former team mate Demba Ba. Ba wrote, “May Allah grant you jannah brother Tiote.”
😭😭😭 may Allah gives grant you jannah brother Tiote 😭😭😭
— Demba Ba (@dembabafoot) June 5, 2017
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… 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.”
— Héctor Bellerín (@HectorBellerin) June 5, 2017
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 Twente, where he made 86 appearances and won the Eredivisie league title in the 2009-10 season under McClaren.
Tiote, a defensive midfielder, then signed for Newcastle in 2010 for £3.5m.
He joined Beijing Enterprises Group for an undisclosed fee in February 2017.