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Is a title challenge possible for Man Utd?

Manchester United
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By ESPN Staff

Tributes flood in for O'Donnell

The death of Motherwell captain Phil O'Donnell has left British football in a state of shock.

O'Donnell died shortly after suffering a suspected seizure during a league match against Dundee United.

Tributes poured in as Scottish football remembered a player described by former Scotland boss Craig Brown as 'a perfect gentleman' and 'an ideal role model'.

O'Donnell, who was 35, was taken off the pitch at Fir Park on a stretcher in the closing stages of the Premier League match.

He was about to be substituted in a match Motherwell won 5-3, but fell to the pitch as the change was taking place.

After being treated for around five minutes on the field, the former Celtic and Sheffield Wednesday midfielder was carried off on a stretcher to a waiting ambulance and taken to Wishaw General hospital.

He died at 5.18pm, the club announced.

O'Donnell's nephew, striker David Clarkson, was also playing in today's match, and was substituted after being alarmed by the incident.

Motherwell manager Mark McGhee said: 'I don't want to say anything more than how devastated everyone at the club is for his wife and his young children.

'That's what we are all feeling tonight, nothing else matters.

'Obviously from the club's point of view we'll gather round to give his family as much support as they need.'

Motherwell owner John Boyle said: 'This is an unspeakable tragedy for Phil's family.

'Everyone at Motherwell is shocked to the core and we are sure that everyone involved in Scottish football will feel the same. Phil was not only an inspirational player for Motherwell and club captain, but was an inspirational person.

'All of us at Motherwell are thinking of his wife Eileen and their four children.'

O'Donnell began his career with Motherwell and rejoined the club in 2004 following spells with Celtic, who he joined in a £1.75million deal in 1994, and Sheffield Wednesday.

He was a hugely popular figure at the club, and chairman Bill Dickie, announcing O'Donnell's death, added: 'This is a tragic happening.'

Motherwell striker Chris Porter paid an emotional tribute to his team-mate.

Porter had only known O'Donnell since joining from Oldham in the summer.

'It's a massive loss to Motherwell, he was just a great player and a great person. Everyone will miss him,' Porter told Sky Sports News.

Porter described the scenes towards the end of the game when he thought his captain had just fainted.

'I've never experienced anything like it,' he said. 'It's a massive shock and a massive loss to Motherwell.

'He went down and no-one really knew what had happened. Doctors and physios ran on, he was unconscious on the floor and it was clear he was in a bad way, but personally I never thought anything would happen.

'I'm just really shocked about it all. Everyone thought he would be okay and he had just fainted so it was a real shock to find out he had passed away.'

O'Donnell made his Motherwell debut as a 17-year-old and went on to score, as a 19-year-old, in the 4-3 victory over Dundee United in the 1991 Scottish Cup final.

His one Scotland cap came against Switzerland, with injuries affecting his spells with Celtic and Wednesday.

He returned to Motherwell after being released by Wednesday in 2003, and made his second debut for the club in January 2004.

He played for `Well in the 2005 Scottish League Cup final and was appointed captain in 2006, after former skipper Scott Leitch left the club.

Former Scotland manager Brown knew O'Donnell well, having handed him his senior cap and also coached him during his time as Scotland Under-21 boss.

Brown 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.

Brown described O'Donnell as 'a perfect gentleman'.

He added: 'You would not get a more ideal role model for a young footballer than Phil O'Donnell. 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. He was a Celtic fan as well as a Motherwell fan.'

Brown urged the whole of Scottish football to pay a tribute to O'Donnell with a minute's applause at every ground in the next round of games.

The Scottish Premier League have postponed Motherwell's match against Hibernian next Wednesday, January 2, but the remaining five games, including Celtic's home match against Rangers, are expected to go ahead.

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. My thoughts are with his family at this tragic time.'

O'Donnell's former Motherwell team-mate John Philliben paid tribute.

The pair were together at Fir Park in the early 1990s.

'Phil was a really nice guy who came into Motherwell when a youngster and worked really hard,' said Philliben. 'I watched him make his debut against St Mirren and play in the cup final for Motherwell before his move to Celtic.

'It will be a sad loss for his family and the club and I'm still in shock trying to take it all in.'

Motherwell have had to deal with tragedy in the past.

Legendary winger Davie Cooper died at the age of 39 in 1995 after suffering a brain haemorrhage when filming a training video for young players.

Cooper had moved on to Clydebank from Motherwell shortly before his death, and had been a Motherwell team-mate of O'Donnell for several years.

In 1998, Motherwell reserve player Andy Thomson died of a heart problem at his own 19th birthday party.

Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell expressed the club's sadness at the death of O'Donnell, their former player.

He said: 'Obviously our thoughts are with his family to whom we offer extreme condolences for a tragic loss of a young life.

'Everyone at Celtic Park will mourn him.'

Motherwell chief executive Ian Stillie asked all media to respect the O'Donnell family's privacy, and added: 'We would also like to thank the ambulance crew, the doctors and the nurses at Wishaw General.'