Tributes paid to 'Uncle Phil' O'Donnell

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The Independent Online

The world of football paid tribute yesterday to Phil O'Donnell, the 35-year-old captain of Motherwell who died on Saturday after suffering a suspected seizure during his team's 5-3 win over Dundee United. The club's next two matches have been postponed.

O'Donnell began his career at Fir Park, making his first-team debut at 17 and scoring a goal as a 19-year-old in the 4-3 victory over Dundee United in the 1991 Scottish Cup final, the last time the club lifted any silverware.

His form earned him a cap for Scotland a move to Celtic in 1994 for 1.75m, which remains the highest fee Motherwell have ever received for a player. He stayed at Celtic Park until 1999, when he moved to England with Sheffield Wednesday.

Injuries, however, hampered what seemed destined to be a long career at the highest level. He returned to Motherwell in 2004 and was, as player-coach, instrumental in making the club this season's main challengers to Rangers and Celtic.

Wednesday's match against Hibernian and next Sunday's game at home to Celtic have both been postponed at the request of O'Donnell's family. He leaves a wife, Eileen, and four children.

Motherwell's manager, Mark McGhee, said yesterday: "As you can understand, Phil's mum and dad and his brothers and sisters are devastated by this. His wife Eileen is inconsolable but again, she has a very strong family around here to support her and help her through this."

McGhee praised the contribution of a man known at the club as "Uncle Phil", not just for his family ties his nephew, David Clarkson, is a Motherwell striker but for his role as a senior professional, guiding a young team.

"These players in particular are so close," McGhee said. "It has been well-documented how few players we have used this season and that is something that brings them together, there is a unity about them.

"Phil was a figurehead to them; he was not just any player, he was the focal point of the squad, he was the senior member of the squad. For any of us to contemplate going on a training ground, never mind a football ground at this moment in time is impossible. We are all going to need time to get back to work. Phil was a great, great player to have worked with and I'm honoured to have been his manager."

Craig Brown, the Scotland manager who capped O'Donnell, described him as "a perfect gentleman" and "an ideal role model". He said: "But for injury, I'm sure he would have had many, many more caps. It's very, very sad news, I just can't get over it. I think in his first spell at Motherwell he was probably the best box-to-box midfield player maybe not just in Scotland but in the UK. He was a Steven Gerrard-type of player, and he went to Celtic and that was no surprise."

Gordon Smith, chief executive of the Scottish Football Association, said: "This is absolutely devastating news. Phil was not just a wonderful footballer, he was a great human being."

Peter Lawwell, chief executive of Celtic, said: "Everyone at Celtic Park will mourn him."

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