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Ehiogu changed fortunes of Boro, Villa; helped mould stars of Spurs, England

April 21, 2017 5:32 PM
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Ehiogu changed fortunes of Boro, Villa; helped mould stars of Spurs, England

Former England international and Premier League defender Ugo Ehiogu died on Friday after suffering a cardiac arrest at Tottenham's training ground the previous day.

He was a committed and hard-working man whose career was marked by long-ranging spells at Premier League clubs Aston Villa and Middlesbrough. But it was perhaps the formidable partnership that he formed with Gareth Southgate that shone brightest.

The central defensive pair first crossed paths at Villa, where Ehiogu joined in 1991 as a protege of Paul McGrath after catching the eye of then-manager Ron Atkinson. Success came in the form of being one of the first names on the team sheet for the next nine years, and also, in 1996, the first of his two career Carling Cup victories. Ehiogu and Southgate together embarked upon a golden spell at Villa under the guidance of Brian Little, who not only enjoyed the Carling Cup win in 1996 but also a fourth-place finish in the league that caused plenty of upset for the other big teams.

An England call-up was unsurprising, and Ehiogu earned four caps and scored one goal in his international outings.

Eventually, Ehiogu left Villa citing their lack of ambition, and became Boro's record transfer as the club stumped up £8 million for his services in 2000. Southgate wasn't far behind him, making the move to Teesside just a season later.

As Southgate himself once said on the pair's joint England call-up, "It's a great benefit to play with somebody you know. When you go into a situation you can react off them and know what they are going to do." This familiarity, understanding and unmitigated support pushed the twosome forward as a highly impressive and impenetrable package, and certainly the strongest centre-back pairing that Boro have ever had.

Middlesbrough fans remember the statuesque defender very fondly for bringing real success to the club; before the Ehiogu era, Boro's trophy cabinet was empty. Four years into his stint on Teesside, the club were hitting great heights under the management of Steve McClaren, going on to win the Carling Cup in 2004. Then there was the dalliance with Europe, where Ehiogu played a big part in propelling Boro to the final of the 2006 UEFA Cup in Eindhoven.

These were unprecedented scenes for a club who, five years previous, were languishing in the Premier League doldrums following a quick drop down into the second tier. McClaren's appointment in 2001, a year after Bryan Robson signed Ehiogu, helped to bring stability to the club as well as an influx of top-class European stars. Ehiogu stood out with the best of them, including the likes of Christian Ziege and Gaizka Mendieta, and he regularly donned the captain's armband in the run-up to the 2004 Carling Cup final win against Bolton.

After finishing up his playing career with spells at Leeds, Rangers and Sheffield United, Ehiogu returned to his native London in 2014. He began working with Tottenham, specifically dealing with their under-23s, training with injured first-team players and bringing through new talent. There must be something to be said for Tottenham's current success, sitting second in the Premier League, and Ehiogu's involvement behind the scenes as Spurs' future looks bright.

The raft of young English stars including Dele Alli, Harry Kane, Eric Dier and Kyle Walker had Ehiogu to look to as a mentor and role model. Southgate, now England manager, also could call on his old partner in crime for guidance as he looked to freshen up the Three Lions squad with young blood from Spurs and beyond.

To the man who helped instigate a step change in the fortunes of both Aston Villa and Middlesbrough, and for whom memories will always be associated with very good times: thank you.

Also read: UEFA Champions League: England, Spain to have four automatic spots in group stages

Source: espnfc.com

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