By PAUL COLLINS
Christian Benitez, who played for Birmingham City in the Premier League, has tragically died at the age of 27 after suffering a heart attack.
A summer transfer target for Tottenham, the Ecuador striker had only completed a £10million switch to Qatari side El Jaish from Mexican team Club America a few weeks ago.
He made his debut for the club on Sunday against Qatar SC, but was admitted to hospital after the game with stomach pains.
An Ecuador Football Federation statement read: 'The FEF regrets to inform you of the death of Christian Benitez, the striker of Qatar club Al Jaish and the Ecuador national team.
'Benitez, who was with his new club in Qatar, had a severe stomach pain, which was why he was rushed to a hospital, where after a few hours suffered he suffered a cardiorespiratory arrest, which ended his life.
'The Ecuadorian Football Federation extends its heartfelt sympathy to the family - parents, wife, children - and friends of our striker Christian Benitez. May he rest in peace.'
Former Republic of Ireland midfielder Lee Carsley, who played with Benitez at Birmingham, said: ‘I remember he had outstanding ability, was very quick and was a bit of a free spirit.
‘He had a big personality and burst on the scene when he came on at Old Trafford (as a substitute in August 2009) and caused lots of problems. His ability and goalscoring ability were there to see. ‘He got a grasp of the Brummie accent quite quickly and was popular with everyone.
Benitez made 36 appearances for Birmingham City while on loan in the 2009-10 season
‘It is sad to lose anyone like this.’
El Jaish also released a statement confirming the news. It said: 'The club would like to offer its sincere condolences to the family of the player.
'Benitez had recently joined the club from Club America for three seasons. The player participated for the first time with the team during yesterday's match against Qatar Sports Club in the Sheikh Jassem Cup without complaining of any health problems.
'His sudden departure is a big shock for each member of the technical and administrative staff. He was a player that over the short period he was here was regarded for his high moral character.'
Benitez netted 52 goals in 79 appearances for Club America before leaving for El Jaish
Benitez, nicknamed 'Chucho', was on loan at St. Andrew's for the 2009-10 season, making 36 appearances for the Blues. He won 58 caps for Ecuador, including appearances at the 2006 World Cup.
Manchester United winger Antonia Valencia led the tributes to his compatriot. Valencia took to Twitter to pay his respects, including posting a touching photo of the pair together.
Valenica posted in Spanish: 'Forever you'll be my brother, this pain hurts so much but brother we love you.'
Benitez holds aloft the Mexican league title, which he won with Club America this year, and in action
As tributes for Benitez from around the game began to pour in, it became clear that the striker had an impact on team-mates during his short time in Birmingham.
The club released a statement to mark their former striker's passing, saying: 'Birmingham City Football Club is saddened to learn of the passing of former striker Christian 'Chucho' Benitez.
'The thoughts of all associated with the football club are with Chucho's family and friends at this very sad time.
Benitez, at the 2006 World Cup, is Ecuador's third-highest all-time goalscorer
'Chucho's passing will now be marked at St. Andrew's ahead of Saturday's fixture against Watford.
'The Ecuador international was an immensely-popular character during his time at the football club. During a season-long loan from Mexican club Santos Laguna in 2009/10, Chucho made 36 appearances scoring four goals.
Former Blues star Craig Gardner took to his Twitter account to register his condolences, posting: 'Can't believe Christian Benitez aka chucho has died had the pleasure to play with him he was a top bloke. My thoughts go out to his family.'