ABIDJAN, Côte d’Ivoire, Jun 15 – Around a thousand fans and some twenty international teammates were present at Abidjan airport on Thursday to pay their respects as the body of football star Cheick Tiote, who died in China earlier this month aged 30, was brought home.
A key member of the Ivory Coast team which ended a 23-year drought in winning the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations, his manager from that time Herve Renard had made the trip as had teammates Salomon Kalou, Kader Keita and Wilfried Bony.
“I have come here for my brother, my colleague, my friend. Words cannot explain the depths of my sadness,” said Manchester City striker Bony.
“He was like a little brother, like family and we’re here today to show that – we shared everything,” said the 35-year-old Keita.
Keita was wearing a white t-shirt with the words ‘Rest in peace Cheicky’ upon it.
Tiote, a 52-time capped player, who was at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, will be honoured with a military funeral on Sunday.
The forward moved to China in February from England’s Newcastle United.
He collapsed at training with second-tier Chinese club Beijing Enterprises on June 5.
Tiote was very well liked in English football circles after his stint with Newcastle, including six Premier League campaigns before their relegation last year.
He began his European club career with Belgian outfit Anderlecht and had a loan spell at Roda JC Kerkrade before moving to FC Twente in 2008.
Tiote signed for Newcastle in 2010 and made 156 appearances for the club, becoming a firm favourite with fans.