SABC Sports presenter Walter Mokoena writes a heartfelt tribute for recently deceased midfielder Cheick Tiote. The former Newcastle United player was four months into his spell at Chinese club Beijing Enterprises when reports of his passing proliferated in the media after collapsing at training.
Cheick Ismael Tiote, died 16 days before his 31st birthday, after he suffered a cardiac arrest at training with his Chinese team Beijing Enterprise.
When I heard the news on the 5th of June, it took me 14 years back to June 26 2003 at Olympic Lyon’s Stage Gerland, where Cameroon’s midfield powerhouse Marc Vivian Foe collapsed and died in the 73rd minute of the Confederations Cup semifinal between Cameroon and Colombia.
Foe, a powerfully built, box-to-box physical specimen died in his prime. I was a big fan of him. When I first saw Tiote play during 2010 during the FIFA World Cup in South Africa, I saw a reincarnation of Foe, in terms of style of play.
A midfield general, with a big engine, could run all day and packed a mean shot. Foe was a strapping, intimidating figure standing at 6ft 4, and while Tiote lacked the height and physical presence of Foe, he more than made up for it with his “big heart” and fire in his belly.
The same heart would fail him on 5th of June 2017.
In my humble opinion, I felt that Tiote, deserved to play for a top four side in the English Premier League, but it wasn’t to be. Luck perhaps, or the lack thereof, may have had something to do with it.
From humble begins where he was born in Yamoussoukro, grew up in Abidjan where he started playing his football. He attracted the interest of Belgian giants Anderlecht where he teamed up with Man City captain Vincent Kompany.
After 3 years, he joined FC Twente in a deal worth 750 000 pounds, where he continued impressing top teams all over Europe, and when his English coach Steve McClaren at Twente went back to England, he took him with to Newcastle United where he spent over 5 years there before he eventual went to China.
Tiote won the 2015 African Cup of Nations title with the Elephants and featured in two FIFA World Cup 2010 and 2014 where he started in all the group matches.
He earned 52 caps with the national team. Another son of the soil, another promising African Talent cut short in its prime.
Always wearing his proverbial heart on his sleeve. The small man had a big heart. Like my other hero Foe, the heart that served him so well for most of his career later failed him. Repose en paix. (Rest in peace)