Former Birmingham striker Christian Benitez has died at the age of 27, his club in Qatar have confirmed.
The Ecuadorean international, who played for Birmingham on-loan in 2009/10, had just signed for Qatari club El Jaish last month for a fee of £10m.
The club confirmed that he died in an official statement.
It read: "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."
Although the club did not confirm the cause of death, it is believed the player suffered a cardiorespiratory arrest after he played in his club's match against Qatar SC.
Nicknamed ‘Chucho’, he was capped 58 times by his country, scoring 24 goals and he stands as the third highest scorer in Ecuador’s history.
He started his career at El Nacional on a youth contract before signing a permanent deal in 2004, going on to make 84 appearances and scoring 29 goals before moving to Santos Laguna in 2007.
Although he scored 51 goals in 97 appearances for the Mexican club, he was sent on-loan to St Andrews, where he played 36 times and scoring four goals during the club’s, but despite the club and then-manager Alex McLeish attempting to negotiate a permanent move, Benitez went back to Santos Laguna for another season.
The forward then moved to fellow Mexican side America, where he had a prolific record of 52 goals in 79 games, and he had recently signed for Qatari club El Jaish in June.
Benitez was making his debut for his new club, with his tragic death coming before he was able to feature prominently after his big-money move.
Benitez's international teammate Antonio Valencia instantly tweeted his sadness, posting on his offical Twitter account: "Brother God is with your family," along with pictures of Benitez, incuding one of the pair together seen below.
Sunderland midfielder Craig Gardner, who played with Benitez at Birmingham, said on the social networking site: "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."
Birmingham also sent a message of condolence through their official Twitter account.
"RIP Christian 'Chucho' Benitez. Forever in our hearts.
“The thoughts of all at Birmingham City Football Club are with the friends and family of Chucho following this very sad news. #RIP”
The club have also announced that they will honour Benitez in their opening Championship fixture against Watford at St Andrews.Reuse content