Ivory Coast midfielder Cheick Tiote who died on Monday aged 30 was the ‘kind of player everyone wants in their team, said former England manager Steve McClaren who managed him at two clubs.
According to his second tier Chinese club Beijing Enterprises, Tiote “suddenly fainted” during training on Monday and was rushed to hospital, where he died.
McClaren — who coached Tiote at Dutch side Twente where they won the 2010 title and subsequently for the 2015/16 season at Newcastle United — told the BBC he knew the world was at peace with itself when he saw Tiote smile.
“At Newcastle if (Papiss) Cisse and Cheick were smiling I knew the world was OK,” said McClaren, who managed Newcastle from 2015-16.
“He was a ferocious competitor on the field but had a beautiful smile off it.
“He was the kind of player that everyone wants in their team.”
McClaren said he had been delighted for Tiote when he secured a lucrative move to China in February ending a seven year stay at Newcastle.
McClaren said Tiote had always wanted to make the money that would allow him to look after his family.
Tiote was one of 10 children who like many of his Ivory Coast team-mates grew up in abject poverty and didn’t possess a pair of boots until he was 15.
“It was his dream to play in China and I was so delighted for him when it happened,” said McClaren.
“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.”
McClaren said Tiote — who was a member of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations winning team although he was unable to play in the final as he was injured — was the toughest player he had come across.
“I knew him first as a young player at Twente. He was the toughest player I’ve ever seen,” said McClaren.
“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.”