Ivory Coast international midfielder Cheick Tiote has died aged 30 while training with his Chinese club Beijing Enterprises, his spokesman announced in a statement on Monday.
Tiote, who was part of the Ivory Coast squad that delivered the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations after a 23 year drought although he was injured for the final, had only moved to China in February after ending a seven year stay with English outfit Newcastle United.
"It is with deep sadness that I confirm that my client Cheick Tiote sadly passed away earlier today after collapsing in training with his club Beijing Enterprises," Tiote's spokesman Emanuele Palladino said.
"We cannot say any more at the moment and we request that his family's privacy be respected at this difficult time.
"We ask for all your prayers."
Benitez pays tribute
Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez paid tribute to the talented Tiote, one of 10 children who like many of his international team-mates grew up in abject poverty and didn't possess a pair of boots until he was 15.
"It is with great sadness that I have this afternoon learned of Cheick's death," Benitez told the Newcastle website.
"In the all the time that I have known him, he was a true professional, dedicated and above all, a great man.
"Our hearts go out to his family and friends at such a sad time."
Tiote moved to Newcastle from Dutch side FC Twente in 2010 and made 161 appearances for the Magpies, scoring once -- the equaliser when Newcastle recovered from 4-0 down to draw 4-4 with Arsenal in 2011.
The 52-times capped Tiote, who was in both the 2010 and 2014 World Cup squads, began his European club career with Belgian outfit Anderlecht but only played four times in three years with them -- being loaned out to Dutch side Roda JC Kerkrade -- before moving to Twente in 2008.
Newcastle said in a statement they were "devastated" whilst Alan Pardew, who was manager of Newcastle for a large part of the time Tiote was there said his goal in the 4-4 draw with Arsenal was an iconic moment of Premier League history.
"I'm devastated to hear the news about my former player and friend Cheick Tiote," Pardew said in a statement, quoted by independent.ie.
"From the moment I arrived at Newcastle, Cheick was a wonderful presence around the dressing room and his performances on the field often defied belief."
"I loved him. He's everything that you want in a Newcastle player.
"To hear the news that he has passed away at the age of 30 breaks my heart and my sympathies go out to all his family and friends who will be devastated by this news."