Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Tribute to a tackler

While Peter Sallis' death yesterday at the age of 96 was saddening, it couldn't be described as tragically premature. The same could not be said of the passing of former Newcastle player Cheick Tiote, who collapsed and died following a heart attack suffered during a training session in China. Shockingly, our former midfield enforcer was just 30.

The Ivorian's arrival at St James' Park in the summer of 2010 was instrumental in ensuring we comfortably stayed in the Premier League after promotion and then pushed on with an impressive fifth-placed finish the following season. Tiote formed a formidable partnership with Kevin Nolan and then Yohan Cabaye, doing the dirty work so his central midfield colleague could grab the headlines. He had an insatiable appetite for tackling and disrupting - so much so that he was inevitably a magnet for yellow cards and had to be told to go easy on his teammates in training.

Two of the best tributes have come from Independent journalist and author Martin Hardy and the Telegraph's Luke Edwards - the latter flagging up how the "wrecking-ball midfielder" was also fond of perilous pirouettes on the age of his own penalty box while in possession. The picture that emerges from such pieces, as well as from the countless eulogies tweeted by former colleagues, is of someone who was as shy and retiring off the pitch as he was combative on it, though always on hand with a joke or an encouraging comment for a youngster.

Though the one-time £25 million Chelsea and Man Utd target became more and more of a peripheral figure as his Newcastle career wore on, he will be fondly remembered on Tyneside - not least for the only goal he ever scored in his 156 appearances, one that made Premier League history. He should have had two, though - the home defeat by Man City in January 2014 will be recalled for his disallowed screamer. We should also celebrate his key role in the 3-0 win over Man Utd in January 2012 - a game in which he was immense and in which, needless to say, he picked up a booking.

My favourite Tiote story? That would be the one when the injured midfielder apparently headed home to consult "his favourite witch doctor". So much for sports science and physiotherapy - though the ferocity with which he tackled suggested someone who didn't have much time for the fripperies of the modern game.

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