Ireland captain Robbie Keane has paid an emotional tribute to the wife of his pal Rio Ferdinand following her untimely death over the weekend.
Ferdinand made the shock announcement on Saturday that his wife Rebecca Ellison had passed away following a short battle with cancer.
The football world united behind Rio and LA Galaxy captain Keane, who played alongside Ferdinand at Leeds United, revealed he was “heartbroken” when he heard the sad news.
“Totally heartbroken to hear of the death of Rebecca Ellison,” wrote Keane on his Facebook page.
“Rio was my former roommate, Rebecca was such a lovely person & mum of three beautiful children. My condolences to the family. Thoughts & prayers are with Rio & the kids during this difficult time. May she rest in peace.”
Robbie’s wife Claudine also expressed her sadness on her Twitter page.
“Very sad to hear Rebecca Ellison passed away yesterday after a short battle with cancer. My heart breaks for @rioferdy5 & their three kids. RIO,” she wrote.
Rio and Rebecca married in 2009 and had three children together: Lorenz, nine; Tate, six; and four-year-old Tia.
In a statement released on Saturday on the website of his club, Queens Park Rangers, Ferdinand said: "My soul mate slipped away last night. Rebecca, my wonderful wife, passed away peacefully after a short battle with cancer at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London.
"She was a fantastic loving mother to our three beautiful children. She will be missed as a wife, sister, aunt, daughter and granddaughter. She will live on in our memory, as a guide and inspiration."
Ferdinand (36) thanked friends, family and hospital staff for their support over the past months.
He said: "Myself, my parents, Janice and Julian, along with Rebecca's parents, Lesley and Stephen, would like to thank our families, friends and my club colleagues who have rallied around in these desperate days, weeks and months. I would also like to express my gratitude for the dedication and expertise of the staff led by professors Johnstone and Clarke at the Royal Marsden. Their valiant efforts to prolong Rebecca's all-too-short life will not be forgotten.
"Our grief, as a family, is total. We would appreciate being allowed to mourn privately." The London club added: "The thoughts of everyone at Queens Park Rangers football club are with Rio and his family at this immensely difficult time."
Leading figures from British sport took to social media to offer their condolences. Footballer-turned-pundit Gary Lineker wrote on Twitter: "Thoughts are with Rio Ferdinand and his family. How dreadfully sad."
Former England cricketer Michael Vaughan posted: "Incredibly sad news ... Thinking of you @rioferdy5 and your young family". TV presenter Eamonn Holmes wrote: "Such sad news to wake up to ... The Death of @rioferdy5's wife Rebecca after a short fight with Cancer. Condolences."
Ferdinand's former club, Manchester United, for whom he played for more than a decade, said: "Everybody's thoughts at Manchester United are with Rio Ferdinand today, whose wife sadly passed away last night." The club's former goalkeeper, Peter Schmeichel, wrote: "Really sad news that Rebecca Ellison, the wife of Rio Ferdinand, has passed away."