It has been exactly five years since the retired defender collapsed and died, but his former teammate is still sad about the untimely demise
England manager Gareth Southgate has confessed that he is yet to get over the sudden death of former Middlesbrough centre-back and England international Ugo Ehiogu.
Born in London into a family of Nigerian background, Ehiogu graduated from the West Brom academy before securing a move to Aston Villa in 1991.
It was at Villa that he first became teammates and friends with Gareth Southgate, forming an excellent centre-back partnership with the future Three Lions boss.
Ehiogu teamed up with Middlesbrough in 2000, swapping Villa Park for Riverside Stadium, and once again formed an impregnable defensive pairing with Southgate when the latter joined the following year.
Their partnership would remain rock-solid for six years, during which time they led Boro to lift the Football League Cup in 2004. They had both been influential in helping Aston Villa win the same trophy in 1996.
The two friends took to coaching after retirement, with Southgate managing Middlesbrough and England U21 before he was named the national team boss in 2016.
Ehiogu called time on his playing career in 2009, and despite taking up other interests in Music and charity works, he never lost touch with his first love, football. And in 2014, the former Rangers ace was appointed to take charge of Tottenham Hotspur’s U-23s.
It was at the Tottenham Hotspur’s training ground that he suffered a cardiac arrest before he was confirmed dead the following day, on 21 April 2017.
Ehiogu has been described by many as a humble, selfless, and personable individual. And Southgate admits that those qualities, forged from Ehiogu’s deep family roots, made the death of his late friend so hard to take and so difficult to get over.
“It really hit me as hard as anything has in my life,” Southgate told The Athletic.
“He was a real gentle, caring guy and I saw that interaction with his kids and with people generally around the training ground. Always really, really good manners. Comes from a really lovely family, strong values with his family, and that shone through in his day-to-day behaviour.
“I’ve been very fortunate that my own family have been in reasonable health and I’ve lost very few relatives at an early age. So when you’ve been with someone who is so strong and looks after themselves so well… he was bloody fussy about his food!
“With more awareness and consciousness of heart problems, you realise it’s not just about fitness. But it was just unimaginable in my head then that could happen to someone with that strength. I found that really difficult to get over.
“We played for around ten years together.
“That’s a lot of trips, a lot of travel, a lot of time spent chatting. And yet one of the biggest regrets is that we didn’t get to know each other even better.”
Despite his Nigerian roots, Ehiogu played international football for England, appearing four times for the Three Lions and scored once.