I've lost my soulmate - Rio
Rio Ferdinand has paid tribute to his "wonderful" wife and "soulmate" after she died aged 34 following a short battle with cancer.
Rebecca Ellison, who married the QPR defender in 2009 while he was a Manchester United player, passed away on Friday at a hospital in London.
She is survived by the 36-year-old former Leeds and England captain and their three children, Lorenz, nine, Tate, six, and Tia, four.
Ferdinand confirmed his wife's passing in a statement posted on QPR's website on Saturday morning.
"My soulmate slipped away last night," he said.
"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 expressed gratitude to the Royal Marsden Hospital staff who cared for his wife in her final days.
"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," he added.
"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 couple married in August 2009 after Ferdinand had helped United win a third successive Premier League title and the club, where he won six league titles and the Champions League, paid their respects shortly after the news broke.
"Manchester United would like to express its deepest condolences to Rio Ferdinand after the news that his wife, Rebecca, has sadly passed away," a statement on the club's official website said.
Ferdinand wore the number five shirt at United and the fifth minute of Saturday evening's Premier League encounter against West Brom at Old Trafford sparked applause and chants of "Rio, Rio, Rio" from the home fans, while players from both sides wore black armbands.
Ferdinand joined QPR last summer after 12 trophy-laden years at United and the Hoops, whose players wore black armbands against Liverpool, also expressed their sympathy.
In a statement, the west London club said: "The thoughts of everyone at Queens Park Rangers Football Club are with Rio and his family at this immensely difficult time."
The news prompted messages of support from footballers past and present, with Ferdinand's former United and England team-mates Wayne Rooney, Chris Smalling and Michael Owen among those to pay tribute on Twitter.
Rooney wrote: "Devastated to hear about Rebecca. My prayers are with Rio and his family at this sad time."
Owen posted: "Stunned to hear about @rioferdy5's wife. Thoughts with him and his family."
Smalling, who played many times alongside Ferdinand in the heart of United's defence, added: "Incredibly sad news. My thoughts and prayers are with @rioferdy5 and his young family."
Ferdinand won 81 England caps in a 14-year international career and the Football Association, like so many others, used Twitter to extend its condolences to the former Three Lions captain and his family.
"The FA wishes to express its deepest condolences at the passing of Rebecca Ellison. Our thoughts are with Rio, their family and friends," a post on their official account read.
Ferdinand missed the 2010 World Cup in South Africa due to injury and was part of the BBC's punditry team for the Brazil tournament four years later, and subsequently worked alongside Gary Lineker, who tweeted: "Thoughts are with Rio Ferdinand and his family. How dreadfully sad."
QPR midfielder Leroy Fer revealed a message of support to the Ferdinand family on his base layer after scoring at Anfield and was one of a number of Hoops players to let their team-mate know he was in their thoughts.
Club captain Joey Barton wrote: "Just heard the terrible news. My heart goes out to @rioferdy5 and his family. RIP Rebecca."
Midfielder Karl Henry added: "Devastated to hear the sad news of Rio's wife passing. All of our thoughts are with him and his family."