SUNDERLAND midfielder Craig Gardner has paid tribute to former team mate Christian “Chucho” Benitez.
The Ecuador international striker’s death has been confirmed his Qatari club.
Benitez, 27, joined the Middle Eastern club earlier this month from Mexican side Club America, after previous spells with El Nacional, Santos Laguna and Birmingham.
He was a regular for his country and made the Ecuador squad for the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany.
An Al Jaish statement confirmed his passing but did not give a cause of death.
It read: “The club would like to offer its sincere condolences to the family of the player.
“Benitez had recently joined the club from Club America for three seasons. The player participated for the first time with the team during yesterday’s match against Qatar Sports Club in the Sheikh Jassem Cup without complaining of any health problems.
“His sudden departure is a big shock for each member of the technical and administrative staff. He was a player that over the short period he was here was regarded for his high moral character.”
Gardner, who played with Benitez at Birmingham, paid tribute to the player on Twitter.
He said: “Can’t believe Christian Benitez aka chucho has died had the pleasure to play with him he was a top bloke. My thoughts go out to his family.”
Manchester United winger and Ecuador team-mate Antonio Valencia also paid tribute, tweeting a picture of the pair together.