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Ricksen: The Rangers hero who fought to the very end

The 43-year-old Dutchman died following a battle with motor neuron disease on Wednesday.

Former Rangers player and Dutch international footballer Fernando Ricksen has passed away following a long battle with motor neuron disease.

Ricksen was one of a trio of Dutch players brought to Ibrox by Dick Advocaat in 2000, joining Bert Konterman and Ronald de Boer in making the move to Glasgow. He had forged a reputation with Fortuna Sittard and then AZ Alkmaar that persuaded Rangers to spend £3.75m to secure his signature.

The full-back was far from an instant success at his new club, notably being substituted just 22 minutes into his first game against Celtic with the Parkhead side already 3-0 ahead and on their way to a 6-2 victory.

Ricksen signed for Rangers in 2000.
Ricksen signed for Rangers in 2000. SNS Group

Ricksen fought back to win over the doubters and proved himself to be a key player of a side that enjoyed significant success.

His first season in Scotland ended trophyless but there was silverware to follow with Ricksen part of the side that won the League Cup and Scottish Cup in 2001/02, defeating Ayr united and Celtic in the respective finals.

The following year the Dutchman was again an important figure as Rangers won a domestic treble. When they the title two years later, winning the league on goal difference on the final day, Ricksen was captain and finishing a season that saw him named as joint SPFA player of the year along with Celtic's John Hartson.

Fernando spent six trophy-laden seasons at Ibrox.
Fernando spent six trophy-laden seasons at Ibrox. SNS Group

While his sporting achievements were on the back pages, Ricksen's behaviour often saw his behaviour off the field making the news. A feud with Celtic player and neighbour Alan Thompson was ongoing, while he sent home from a training camp in South Africa by manager Paul le Guen for "inappropriate behaviour".

https://stv.tv/news/west-central/1440858-ex-rangers-captain-fernando-ricksen-dies-after-mnd-battle/ | default

Two months later, Ricksen had left the club to move to Zenit St Petersburg on loan, reuniting with Advocaat who was by then manager of Zenit. The move was quickly made permanent and he was to be a league and cup winner in Russia, as well as winning the Uefa Cup in 2008, though he was an unused substitute against Rangers in the final.

Ricksen then saw out his career with three years at his first club Fortuna Sittard.

Ricksen was diagnosed with MND in 2013.
Ricksen was diagnosed with MND in 2013. SNS Group

In October 2013, the then 37-year-old revealed that he had been diagnosed with MND.

Ricksen vowed to face the illness head on, saying: "I know what the outcome will be of this disease, but I'm not going to waste any time or energy worrying about the future," he said.

"I know there is no cure - but I'm not going down without a fight. I'll never give up."

He spent his remaining years fighting the illness but also raising awareness and raising funds for charity, setting up the Fernando Ricksen Foundation which helps others afflicted by the illness.

A benefit match at Ibrox in 2015 raised £320,000 for charities.

He made his last appearance at a charity event in June this year, telling STV that his illness had progressed to the stage where he could no longer continue.

He said: "I'm in a really difficult situation right now and have to make some decisions regarding my health so I can keep all my energy focused on fighting MND.

"That is why it will be my last charity event, my body can't do that anymore.

"It's very difficult. Your body doesn't work anymore but your brain is functioning without problems.

Tributes at Ibrox.
Tributes at Ibrox. STV

"You start losing the ability to speak, then your legs start to get wobbly, then you can't lift your legs anymore and you start falling, hence the scars.

"After that everything stops working slowly but your brain is fully aware of everything.

"The most difficult thing for me was giving up my independence, now I need to ask everyone for help - it's very difficult."

Ricksen then moved into a hospice near Airdrie for care and lost his fight with the illness on Wednesday morning.

Ricksen is survived by his wife Veronika and daughter Isabella.

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