Former Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill has paid tribute to Cheick Tiote after the former Newcastle United midfielder’s tragic death.
Tiote, 30, collapsed while training with Chinese club Beijing Enterprises and died on Monday, sparking shock around the football world.
The Ivory Coast international had left Newcastle in February after six and a half seasons with the club.
Republic of Ireland manager Neill twice sent Sunderland into battle with a Newcastle side featuring Tiote, who picked up a 25th-minute red card for a typically robust challenge on striker Steven Fletcher on the second occasion, during his time in charge on Wearside.
O’Neill said: “It’s really sad, I must admit – really, really sad. He was a young man in the prime of his life and a really combative player, really very strong and certainly in those games, he used to cause us plenty of problems.
“It’s very, very sad indeed.”
Republic defender and Brighton defender Shane Duffy, who underwent life-saving surgery in May 2010 after suffering a lacerated liver in a freak training-ground accident, sent his best wishes to Tiote’s friends and family.
Duffy said: “It was dreadful news. It’s a tough time for football when you hear stuff like that, and you just look at life a little bit differently.
“It’s sad. My prayers go to his family and the people close to him. It’s just not nice.”
Tiote’s cause of death is as yet unexplained with a post-mortem examination still to take place.
Tiote’s family is heading out to China after receiving the shock news in the hope of receiving some answers.