England manager Gareth Southgate has paid a personal tribute to Ugo Ehiogu following the latter's untimely death at 44, describing his friend and former long-time teammate as a "gentle giant" and a "colossus" on the pitch.
The ex-Premier League stalwart and Tottenham Hotspur U23 coach passed away in hospital during the early hours of Friday morning (21 April) after suffering a cardiac arrest at Spurs' Enfield training base.
Southgate played alongside Ehiogu at Aston Villa between 1995-2000 and later reunited with his fellow centre-back at Middlesbrough, where they combined to win their second League Cup trophy.
"I'm stunned and deeply saddened by Ugo's passing and clearly my initial thoughts are with his wife Gemma, his children and his family," Southgate said in a statement released via the FA.
"I know that football will be grieving because he was so highly respected by everybody he worked with and losing him at such a young age is difficult to come to terms with.
"Most importantly, he was a gentleman and he is one of those characters that people would find it difficult to have anything bad to say about.
"I probably played more games with Ugo than anybody else in my career and, while in many ways he was a gentle giant away from football, he was a colossus on the pitch. It felt like a true partnership with Ugo because we were prepared to put our bodies on the line for each other. We shared highs, lows and won a couple of trophies together with Villa and Boro and it's those memories that I will always cherish when I think of Ugo.
"He was one of the most professional people I played with in terms of how he applied himself to his job and it was great to see him progressing through the coaching pathway with that thirst for learning. I've spoken to several of our former team-mates today and there's just a sense of disbelief that we're having these conversations. Ugo was a credit to football, a credit to his family and he will be missed by everybody who was lucky enough to know him."
Tottenham first-team manager Mauricio Pochettino has described Ehiogu as an "extremely popular and respected academy coach" and a "tremendous influence on our younger players both in training and away from the pitch". Spurs chairman Daniel Levy labelled his passing as a "huge loss both personally and for all the Tottenham Hotspur family", while head of coaching and player development John McDermott said that "Ugo's immense presence will be irreplaceable".
Tottenham and Chelsea players will both don black armbands on Saturday in memory of Ehiogu, who also represented West Bromwich Albion, Leeds United, Rangers and Sheffield United during a playing career that spanned two decades and included four senior England caps. A minute's applause will take place ahead of the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.