As he approached the third anniversary of his appointment at Tottenham, Ugo Ehiogu could reflect that his coaching career was progressing as his playing days had — quietly, impressively and efficiently.
Ehiogu died earlier today, aged 44, after suffering a cardiac arrest at Tottenham’s training ground in Enfield yesterday. He is survived by his wife, Gemma, and their two children, son Obi Jackson and daughter Jodie.
He had been working with Spurs’ development squad since July 2014.
At a club which prides itself on the quality of its youth system, his role was very important and he was fulfilling it with distinction. It was Ehiogu’s job to improve Tottenham’s youngsters so they could enjoy careers that might mirror his own. When Tottenham spot the next Ledley King, or Harry Kane, or Harry Winks among their youngsters, they need to give them the best chance of realising their potential.
In charge of the club’s Under-23 squad, Ehiogu’s job was to provide a finishing school for youngsters before sending them to the first-team squad and manager Mauricio Pochettino. Cameron Carter-Vickers and Kyle Walker-Peters may be the next graduates to become first-team players, along with Kazaiah Sterling and Marcus Edwards. If they do, some of the credit will be Ehiogu’s.
Born in east London, Ehiogu started as a trainee with West Brom before joining their local rivals, Aston Villa, for £40,000 in August 1991. It was at Villa where he made his name, spending nine years with the club, who today said they will be holding a minute’s applause before the derby with Birmingham on Sunday to remember the defender.
Ehiogu went on to join Middlesbrough in 2000, an £8million transfer that made him the club’s record signing.
He played alongside Gareth Southgate, the current England manager, in central defence at both clubs, winning the League Cup twice with Villa and once with Boro.
There were also spells with Rangers and Sheffield United, and a loan stint at Leeds. He won four England caps.
We do not know the path that Ehiogu would have taken as a coach, yet this much is true: he had the trust of Mauricio Pochettino, the Tottenham manager, and John McDermott, the club’s head of coaching and development. Not many in the game can say that.
Pochettino attaches such weight to the development of young players, meaning that his coaches need to share his ideas about the game, passion for hard work and ferocious attention to detail. McDermott’s job is to find men who fit those criteria — and Ehiogu did so. Tottenham forward Shayon Harrison, who made his first-team debut in an EFL Cup tie at Liverpool last October, paid tribute to Ehiogu today. Harrison is currently at Yeovil but played regularly for Ehiogu in the Spurs development sides.
He tweeted: “One of the most genuine and caring people I’ve ever met. An honour to have been taught by you, not only as a player but as a person.”
McDermott added: “Words cannot express the shock and sadness that we all feel at the club. Ugo’s immense presence will be irreplaceable.
“Our heartfelt sympathies go out to his wife Gemma and his family.”
In pictures | Ugo Ehiogu
Before he was recruited full-time by Spurs, Ehiogu spent time coaching at the club’s academy. He also worked with England at the Under-20 World Cup in 2013, when both Eric Dier and Harry Kane were part of the squad.
Fellow senior England internationals Ross Barkley, John Stones, James Ward-Prowse and Jon Flanagan were also involved in that tournament.
Ehiogu also wanted the game to find room for more black coaches and was a fervent supporter of the Rooney Rule, which would ensure that at least one suitably qualified BME (black and ethnic minority) candidate was on the shortlist for coaching jobs.
Last June, Football League clubs approved the introduction of the rule for academy positions.
Speaking in 2013, Ehiogu said: “It is good to open up the process and give someone the opportunity to put forward their CV and their plans and ideas for managing a particular club. If you speak to certain coaches, they’ve had problems just getting interviews or even getting a response from clubs they’ve contacted over a vacancy.
“Let’s make no mistake about it — there will always be a front-runner for a job and there is no guarantee you would get that club. But a club might just discover a gem.”
Though Ehiogu was fiercely dedicated to his work, he also had interests outside the game. He helped establish a record label, Dirty Hit, which has bands like The 1975, Ben Khan, Superfood, Benjamin Francis Leftwich and Fossil Collective in its stable.
Ehiogu’s final tweet, on March 29, read thus: “Gave a homeless girl £10 last night in Dalston. She didn’t ask or beg. Random impulsive act from me. Not gona lie. Felt good. #dosomethingkind.”
It demonstrates clearly the legacy he leaves, both on and off the pitch.