Carsley leads tribute to former team-mate Benitez
Former Birmingham City striker Christian Benitez died of a suspected heart attack just hours after making his debut for Qatari club El Jaish on Sunday night.
The 27-year-old was admitted to hospital with stomach pains and is thought to have been diagnosed with appendicitis, but – according to his father-in-law Cleber Chala – this developed into peritonitis and complications led to a respiratory arrest.
Benitez only completed a £9.77m move to Qatar from the Mexican side Club America this month.
The forward, known as 'Chucho', made 30 Premier League appearances in a loan spell for Birmingham, then managed by Alex McLeish, in the 2009-10 season.
The club released a statement expressing their sorrow at the news: "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."
Former Ireland midfielder Lee Carsley, a team-mate of Benitez at St Andrew's, said: "He had outstanding ability, was very quick and was a bit of a free spirit.
"He had a big personality and he burst on to the scene when he came on at Old Trafford (as a substitute against Manchester United in August 2009) and caused lots of problems.
"His ability – and goalscoring ability – was there to see. But he didn't really fulfil his potential at Birmingham – it was difficult because of the way Birmingham played.
"He was a popular player in the changing-room, he got a grasp of the Brummie accent quite quickly and he was popular with everyone. It is sad to lose anyone like this."
Former Birmingham midfielder Craig Gardner tweeted: "Can't believe Christian aka chucho has died had the pleasure to play with him he was a top bloke. My thoughts go out to his family."
Benitez scored 24 times in 58 appearances for Ecuador, playing for club sides in his home country, Mexico, England and Qatar. (© Independent News Service)