Cheick Tiote has tragically lost his life
Tiote, who went on to play in two World Cups for his country and become a Premier League regular at St James' Park, claimed he did not even see a pair for five years after taking up the sport.
“I played barefoot,” the midfielder recalled to reporters in 2010. “With bare feet I actually had better contact with the ball and it helped me develop.”
Over the past 24 hours, the football world has mourned the man with “the big smile” after he died suddenly yesterday aged 30.
One of 10 siblings, Tiote’s nascent talent was spotted by scouts from Anderlecht and in 2005, at the age of 19, he signed a three-year contract with the Belgian club.
Tiote’s remarkable trajectory took him into a Champions League debut the following year, but injuries hampered his progress and he was farmed out for a loan spell at Roda JC in Holland.
In 2008, Tiote moved to FC Twente, linking up with former Middlesbrough and England manager Steve McClaren, who would play no small part in convincing the player that his next significant port of call should be the north-east of England.
Tiote’s successful stint at Twente coincided with the club winning their first Eredivisie title in 2010, the same year in which Tiote would also make his international breakthrough, featuring in all the Ivory Coast’s World Cup games in South Africa.
His reputation as a combative, ball-playing midfielder attracted the attention of Newcastle, for whom he signed in a £3.5million deal in August 2010 – a deal which was extended to six and a half years the following summer.
And Tiote scored just one goal in 156 games – but it was a goal which has become one of the most iconic ever scored at St James’s Park.
Memories of that stunning volley against Arsenal on February 5, 2011, will serve as a lasting tribute.
Cheick Tiote celebrates his wonder goal against Arsenal
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Cheick was a warrior on the pitch but a big kid off it
Ex-Newcastle coach John Carver
It capped a remarkable comeback by Alan Pardew’s side, who trailed 4-0 at half-time before scoring four times after the break, with Tiote smashing home a stunning 30-yard volley in the last few minutes to earn the unlikeliest of draws.
The goal ensured that every time he took possession with the goal in his sights, the Toon Army would invariably break into a collective chant of “Shoot, shoot”.
Tiote, however, never did manage to replicate his “piece de resistance” but he continued to earn mass approval for his wholehearted displays in the Newcastle engine room.
He picked up 15 bookings during that first season in English football, including a run of eight yellow cards in 11 games and 14 the following year but falling foul of officialdom owed more to a steely determination than any malice.
Cheick Tiote's goal for Newcastle United against Arsenal Mon, June 5, 2017
Express Sport takes another look at Cheick Tiote's superb volley for Newcastle United against Arsenal in August 2011
Play slideshow AFP/Getty Images 1 of 11
Newcastle United fans will remember this outrageous volley from Cheick Tiote
At one stage, it looked as if Tiote’s time on Tyneside would be short-lived, with Manchester United and Arsenal both keen on him but he remained a fixture in the Newcastle engine room for the next four seasons before injuries hit him hard.
Tiote eventually left Newcastle last summer moving to China, where his close pal Papiss Cisse was now plying his trade.
Former Newcastle coach and manager John Carver kept in touch with Tiote throughout his time in Beijing and has been left stunned by the tragic news.
“I loved Cheick to bits,” he said. “I’m absolutely devastated. We spoke regularly and it was only a couple of weeks ago that we last chatted. Cheick was a warrior on the pitch but a big kid off it.
“I’ll never forget that big smile of his.
Cheick Tiote was a first-team regular at Newcastle
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“Fans and opponents will recall him as a footballer who was hard as nails but those of us who knew him closely will remember him as a real softie and a lovely human being.”
Newcastle said in a statement: “We are devastated to have learnt of the tragic passing of Cheick Tiote. The thoughts of everyone at Newcastle are with Cheick’s family, friends, team-mates and everyone with the clubs he represented.”
Cisse tweeted: “Goodnight brother. You will be missed. Gone too soon.”
And ex-Newcastle keeper Steve Harper posted: “Gutted to hear the awful news about my former team-mate.”
Tiote’s passing means Newcastle have now lost three popular players in the Premier League era following the deaths of Gary Speed and Pavel Srnicek.
Football is in mourning again. But those memories will live on.