(GUARDIAN/AFP) - Former Newcastle midfielder Cheick Tiot has died after reportedly suffering a heart attack while training with his club in China.
The Ivory Coast international joined Chinese second-tier side Beijing Enterprises in January, having spent seven years at St James' Park.
The 30-year-old was reported to have collapsed at the training ground on Monday (June 5) and was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
"I can confirm that my client Cheick Tiote sadly passed away today after collapsing in training with his club Beijing Enterprises," said his agent Emanuele Palladino in a statement.
"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."
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 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."
It is understood that Tiote had been living in China on his own since leaving the north-east in January and his wife Madah is expecting their third child this week.
Former Newcastle team-mate Demba Ba, who had a spell in China but now plays for Turkish side Besiktas, was among the first to offer his condolences. "May Allah grant you jannah brother Tiote," he tweeted.
Tiote began his career in his homeland with FC Bibo before starting his European club career with Belgian outfit Anderlecht as a teenager.
But he only played four times in three years with them - being loaned out to Dutch side Roda JC Kerkrade - before moving to Twente, where he played under Steve McClaren, in 2008.
Tiote moved to Newcastle in 2010 for £3.5 million (S$6.2 million) from Twente and made 161 appearances for the Magpies, scoring once - the equaliser when Newcastle recovered from 0-4 down to draw 4-4 with Arsenal in 2011.
He also won 52 caps for Ivory Coast and played in the 2010 and 2014 World Cups. He 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.