Wednesday 23 October 2019

Obituary: Fernando Ricksen

Hard-tackling footballer who succumbed to the temptations of stardom

TOUGH: Fernando Ricksen
TOUGH: Fernando Ricksen

Fernando Ricksen, who died of motor neurone disease aged 43 last Wednesday, was a particularly combative right-sided defender and midfielder for Holland and for Rangers. He spent six successful seasons at Ibrox and in 2005 was voted Scotland's player of the year.

Although his fiery temper and his fondness for alcohol led him to feature on the front as often as on the back pages of newspapers in his playing days, he had latterly won much admiration for his struggle against MND, with which he had been stricken at 37 shortly after retiring from football.

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Ricksen signalled the controversies that were to come when, signing for Rangers in 2000 for a fee of £3.75m, he affected at the press conference not to know who were the club's fiercest rivals, Celtic.

For a time, having come from Dutch football, where he had been known to the Rangers manager Dick Advocaat, who signed him, he struggled to adjust to the intensity of the Scottish game. In his first Old Firm derby he had to be substituted after just 20 minutes, having made mistakes that led to three goals in what finished as a 6-2 defeat.

Ricksen became the first player in Scotland to be banned on television evidence after the referee missed him kicking Aberdeen's Darren Young, and in 2004 he received a four-match ban for elbowing Derek Riordan of Hibernian. The year before, he had pushed his own fully dressed club chairman into a swimming pool in Athens.

Under Advocaat's successor, Alex McLeish, however, the heavily tattooed Ricksen came into his own, prized for his hard-tackling ways and never-say-die attitude. Rangers won the Scottish Cup in 2002, did the treble (with the League Cup) the next season, and in 2005 - with Ricksen as club captain - the League and League Cup double.

He was also awarded 12 international caps between 2000 and 2003, but was never picked again after kicking down two hotel doors in Minsk.

His time at Ibrox ended abruptly in 2006 when an unwise combination of sleeping pills and alcohol led him to streak the length of the aircraft carrying the team to pre-season training in South Africa. Ricksen was told he would never represent Rangers again, having played 182 matches and scored 13 goals.

Fernando Jacob Hubertina Henrika Ricksen was born at Hoensbroek, in southern Holland, on July 27, 1976.

His maternal grandfather, a former league-winning professional footballer, was also a fine billiards player. Coached by him, Fernando finished third in the Dutch championships aged 12.

In 1994, Ricksen signed for a local club, Fortuna Sittard. The team, then in the second flight of Dutch football, won that league in 1995, and when Ricksen moved to AZ Alkmaar he won it a second time in 1998. The previous season he had been voted Young Footballer of the Year, receiving his trophy from Johan Cruyff.

After being shown the door by Rangers, Ricksen made an effort to overcome his dependency on alcohol by attending the Sporting Chance rehabilitation clinic. Advocaat was then managing Zenit St Petersburg and subsequently took him to Russia.

Playing with Andrey Arshavin and Pavel Pogrebnyak, he helped the team to win the Russian Premier League in 2007, breaking the stranglehold of the Moscow sides.

In 2008 Zenit won the Uefa Cup, defeating Rangers in the final in Manchester, although Ricksen was only a substitute. They went on to claim the Uefa Super Cup, beating Manchester United.

In between games, Ricksen gleefully succumbed to the temptations of life in Russia. Although a dubious injection administered by the club kept him off alcohol for two years, he spent a fortune in strip clubs, eventually allowing four girls from one establishment to live in his apartment.

By 2009 he had taken up drinking again and developed a cocaine habit, brought on by increasingly being left out of the side.

He briefly retired, opened a pub in Holland (which lost £250,000) and trained as a coach, before returning to his first club, Fortuna. Ricksen spent three seasons with them before a back injury caused him to hang up his boots in 2013.

That same year, he was diagnosed as having MND, for which there is no cure. He was given 18 months to live; with typical fighting spirit - the title of his memoir, published in 2014 - he refused to adhere to that timetable.

He was driven in particular by his desire to see as much as possible of his daughter Isabella, who had been born in 2012. Two years later, he married her mother, Veronika Veselova, a Russian whom he had met when she was working for Zenit (he also had a son by a brief previous relationship).

They lived largely in Spain until 2018. Too weak to return to Valencia, he spent the remainder of his life at a hospice in Airdrie, latterly confined to a wheelchair and robbed of speech. Even Celtic fans applauded his courage.

His wife and children survive him.

© Telegraph

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