Friend and foe encountered Cheick Tiote legendary ‘reducers’

It was always one of the very first vital snippets of information shared with new arrivals at Newcastle, along with showing them to their space in the dressing room, and a reminder to laugh at the gaffer’s jokes, however bad they were.

Whatever else you do, make sure you’re on Cheicky’s side in training.

As pieces of advice go, it was utterly invaluable. Recent signings were quickly disabused of any notion they may have harboured that Cheick Tiote toned down his no-prisoners approach to tackling when it was just him and his team-mates.

Their first thoughts on the matter often came as they sat in a dazed heap on the damp training ground grass, having been on the receiving end of one of the Ivory Coast international’s legendary ‘reducers’. Alan Pardew regularly referred to him as a warrior.

It’s an apt description of one taken at such a tragically early stage in life.

Following his arrival on Tyneside in 2010 when he signed from the Dutch club FC Twente for a ridiculously cheap £3.5m, such a bruising scenario quickly became known as being ‘Cheicked’.

Often, it wasn’t restricted to just opponents on the five-a-side pitch. Unsuspecting team-mates on the same side would sometimes be caught in the follow-through of one of his ball-winning contretemps. Call it friendly fire, if you will.

Each time it happened, Tiote always had the decency to pick the recipient up, dust them down and ask how they were, accompanied with that big, endearing and totally disarming smile of his.

“We’ve had a couple of knocks in training, lads,” more than one Newcastle manager would sheepishly tell us hacks at pre-match press conferences down the years. We all knew exactly what was coming next.

“It’s not for reporting, but they were picked up in challenges with Cheicky.”

He may have been softly spoken, but Tiote’s commitment spoke volumes. It is more likely to be apocryphal, but it remains worth recounting nevertheless.

To much confusion and mirth, one new signing whose English was somewhat limited was said to have enquired about how he got involved in the players’ in-house chess league which he was keen to join, after, on his first day, he had been warned about ‘Cheick, mate.’

Last month, the outpouring of grief and testament after tearful testament to their late former colleague betrayed the esteem in which the midfielder was held by those who knew him after he collapsed and died when suffering a heart attack while training, unsurprisingly with the ultra-committed gusto he always displayed, with his new team, Beijing Enterprise.

The Chinese club had no emergency cardiac equipment at their training base with which to treat a player who had signed a lucrative contract to join them from Newcastle less than four months previously.

That had ended a six-and-a-half year spell in English football, with its muscular, no-nonsense reputation perfectly suited to Tiote’s armour-plated style.

Newcastle’s midfield tank played a pivotal role patrolling the centre of the park in helping Pardew’s side clinch a fifth-place Premier League finish in 2012, the club’s most productive campaign in the last 14 years.

He did the dirty work, and it was a vital job — win possession for other, more gifted players to caress the ball around the field, while scaring the heck out of opponents. If he had been in a band, Tiote would have been the one to shift the piano. Or carry the drum set.

If cautions were plentiful — 57 all told in his 156 appearances in a black and white shirt, plus a couple of reds into the bargain - then goals were less so.

The Africa Cup of Nations winner managed just one in more than 50 games for his country, a modest figure he matched for the Tynesiders with a memorable effort that will forever be his abiding legacy to Newcastle supporters.

It is a goal that will retain legendary status for those who witnessed its full majesty. There must have been a crowd of around 200,000 at St James’ Park that day in February, 2011 if you believe everyone who enthusiastically tells you ‘I was there’ to see a thunderbolt volley thrashed in from 30 yards with his weaker left foot to secure an improbable 4-4 draw against Arsenal — a club he would later come close to joining.

This after Pardew’s side had gone in at half-time four down.

Tiote’s joyous celebratory sprint alone covered a greater distance than some players manage in an entire match.

He should have doubled his tally at the outset of 2014 with another, equally well struck and almost as dramatic effort in a defeat to Manchester City, but it was chalked out for offside, Yoan Gouffran apparently interfering with Joe Hart’s supposed vision of a shot he barely saw in any case, to rule out a goal of the month that never was.

“I hit a shot that well maybe once a season,” he reflected afterwards, with his usual understated modesty.

Tiote would have turned 31 last month and was set to become a father for the fourth time when he died.

The fact his estimated £10m estate is to be shared among both his widows and a mistress hints at a chaotic private life of a player who nevertheless will be forever remembered for leaving his mark — physically — on opponents, and often on team-mates, but who also left an indelible mark on life and those fortunate enough to have met him.



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