Immense. Not a word used often in football but it has been used several times in the last twenty four hours to describe Ugo Ehiogu who has sadly passed away after suffering a heart attack. The former Aston Villa, Middlesbrough and England defender was 44. As usual, Ehiogu was going through his preparations on Thursday as Spurs Under 23’s coach at the clubs training ground when he collapsed. He received immediate treatment from staff at the facility before being transferred to hospital. He died early Friday morning. He is survived by his wife and two kids.
Best known for his time wearing the claret and blue strip of Aston Villa, Ugochuku (Ugo) Ehiogu actually made his start at West Brom as a trainee before eventually forcing his way into the first team in 1989. He would only play twice for the Baggies before Ron Atkinson came calling and a move to Aston Villa was agreed. Atkinson was impressed by the youngsters power and immense frame and earmarked him as one for the future. It would take Ehiogu almost three seasons to prove to Atkinson that he was the right partner for Paul McGrath at the heart of the defence replacing Shaun Teale but he eventually got his way and never looked back. Over a nine year spell with the club, Ugo would rack up over 300 appearances helping Aston Villa win the League Cup in the 1995-1996 season. His performances over that time also earned him an England call up and a debut substitute appearance against China in 1996 replacing Tony Adams. It would be one of only four appearances for England for Ugo but he did manage to score against Spain in his final appearance in 2001.
By that time Ehiogu was playing for Middlesbrough following a record breaking £8m move. Whilst injury ultimately hampered his time at the Riverside, he did manage to forge a successful partnership with Gareth Southgate, a player who he had previously played alongside at Aston Villa years earlier. With Ugo and Gareth at the heart of their defence and the fantastic trio of Boudewijn Zenden, Gaizka Mendieta and Juninho ahead of them, Middlesbrough stormed to the League Cup final in 2006 where they faced an equally impressive Bolton. Under Sam Allardyce, Bolton had amassed a collection of world class players including Jay Jay Okacha, Ivan Campo and Youri Djorkaeff but it wouldn’t be enough to break down a resilient Middlesbrough who won the game thanks to goals from Joseph Desire Job and Zenden.
Upon his release by Middlesbrough in January 2007, Ugo joined Rangers in the Scottish Premiership. Despite only playing a handful of games for the Ibrox club due to manager Walter Smith favouring Davie Weir and Carlos Cuellar ahead of him, he will forever be in the memory of the Rangers fans mostly due to scoring the winning goal, a spectacular overhead kick in an Old Firm derby game against Celtic only two months after arriving at the club. He would eventually leave Rangers to join Sheffield United on a free after just one year but Ugo’s injury problems followed and after just one full season at the Blades, Ehiogu called time on his playing career.
Tottenham, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough have all confirmed that they intent to honour Ehiogu this weekend before their respective matches with his other clubs Rangers, West Brom and Sheffield United also likely to follow suit. Tributes from those who played with Ugo have spoken about what a great guy he was and an immense player. Ugo’s former chairman at Middlesbrough Steve Gibson spoke about the influence Ehiogu had over a part of the clubs rich history.
“Ugo was one of our heroes at Cardiff when the club won its only ever major trophy, “said Boro chairman Steve Gibson. “Ugo and Gareth Southgate were the rock on which Steve McClaren brought the club its best period in its history. He wasn’t just a good footballer, he was a great man.”