Rangers legend Fernando Ricksen fought 'courageously' against MND, says Doddie Weir
Former Rangers and Netherlands defender Fernando Ricksen has been celebrated for his 'courageous fight' against MND after his death at the age of 43.
Ibrox side Rangers confirmed Ricksen's death on their official website this morning.
Tributes to the player flooded in from across Scotland and the sporting world.
Scottish rugby legend Doddie Weir, who himself was diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND) in 2017, praised Ricksen for his bravery in the face of the disease.
Writing on Twitter, Weir said: "Sad to hear the news of Rangers' Fernando Ricksen's passing, someone who battled with MND and fought a courageous fight.
"Some day, hopefully soon, it will be a battle we start winning."
Rangers announced the news this morning. A statement read: "Rangers is deeply saddened to announce that former player Fernando Ricksen passed away this morning following his battle with motor neurone disease.
"The thoughts of everyone at Rangers is today with his wife Veronika, his daughter Isabella and all his family and friends."
The Limburg-born right-back, who made more than 180 appearances for the Ibrox side, revealed he had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a form of MND, in October 2013.
During the early part of his footballing career, he spent time with EHC Norad, RKONS and Roda JC before making his professional debut with Fortuna Sittard. He featured more than 90 times for Fortuna, and earned a move to AZ Alkmaar in 1997.
His performances for the 1997/98 Eerste Divisie title-winners secured a £3.75 million transfer to Rangers following the turn of the Millennium.
Ricksen spent six years at Ibrox but found game time hard to come by towards the end of his time in Glasgow as he fell out of favour under new manager Paul Le Guen.
The Gers hall-of-famer joined Zenit St Petersburg, initially on loan during the 2006/07 season where he played under his former manager at Rangers and compatriot Dick Advocaat, before making the move permanent in 2007.
The right-back struggled to nail down a place in Zenit's starting team, and was demoted to the reserves after refusing to leave the club. His contract was terminated in August 2009 due to "disciplinary violations".
He returned to his first club Fortuna Sittard in 2010 and remained there until he hung up his boots in 2013.
Ricksen made 12 appearances for the Netherlands between 2000 and 2003, featuring against England, Germany, Portugal and Spain in international friendlies and Euro 2004 qualifiers.
He won five league titles with Fortuna, AZ, Rangers and Zenit, along with two Scottish Cups and three League Cups during his time in Scotland. Ricksen also helped Zenit to the UEFA Cup, and was an unused sub as the St Petersburg side defeated his previous employers in the 2008 final in Manchester, and won the UEFA Super Cup and the Russian Super Cup during his time in Russia.
He is survived by wife Veronika and daughter Isabella.
During an emotional interview with Dutch TV in September 2018, Veronika revealed that the couple's daughter, then five years old, wasn't aware her father was ill, instead believing him to have simply grown old.
She said: "[Isabella] thinks he’s old. She says ‘Papa is old, can you help him?’ She always asks me, ‘when Papa was young he was playing football, can he go back to then?’
“She knows her daddy is different but she doesn’t know he’s sick or in pain, so for me, it’s the best way she could see him.”