RANGERS legend Fernando Ricksen has died today aged 43 after a battle with motor neurone disease.
The Dutch defender fought the degenerative condition for six years and passed away in a hospice in the early hours of this morning.
His former club said in a statement: “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.”
Ricksen was pictured for the final time smiling with Verokina and Isabella just two weeks before he died.
He helped Rangers win two league titles, two Scottish Cups and three League Cups and gained legendary status among fans.
The Ibrox icon was hailed as a “warrior” by close pal and former teammate Peter Lovenkrands.
He said: You looked after me when we signed at Rangers together, taking me back and forward to training because I didn’t have a car, great memories on and off the pitch!
“A true warrior and leader on the pitch! You’ll be truly missed RIP my friend.”
Earlier this year we told how the beloved footballer celebrated his birthday with his family.
Veronika and Fernando embrace during public appearance[/caption]
The Gers icon had a birthday cake made for him as his hospice room was decorated with balloons and banners.
He played 182 games for the Glasgow giants from 2000 to 2006 — netting 13 goals.
Tributes have flooded in for the Ibrox cult hero who leaves behind his wife Veronika, 33, and daughter Isabella, 8.
Rangers fans took to Twitter to pay tribute to the club legend.
One wrote: “What a fight you put up – may you rest in peace now.
“Here’s how I’ll remember you and your bests season with us. As a title winning captain”
Another wrote: “Thanks for all the amazing memories you created for the fans on and off the park. You’re an inspiration. “Thoughts are with your many friends and family. I hope you are now at peace, Captain. Love from your Rangers Family.”
In 2015, Ricksen described the crushing moment he received his diagnosis.
He told Sky Sports: “When they said, I just couldn’t believe it.
“I thought they had made a mistake, maybe they took someone else’s file. But after one month of all the tests, then you know what you have.
“(But) I can’t sit in the corner and say ‘why me, what happened? For me, it happened and I’m still happy.”
I am a warrior, a warrior with a fighting spirit. I’ll never give up and I’ll never surrender
Fernando Ricksen after his diagnosis
Ricksen raised awareness and funds to help other suffers of motor neurone through the Fernando Ricksen Foundation.
On his website, the brave brave star defiantly wrote: “I am a warrior, a warrior with a fighting spirit. I’ll never give up and I’ll never surrender.”
The star was diagnosed with MND in 2013 and moved into a hospice from hospital in November after falling ill at an Ibrox bash.
What is motor neurone disease?
Motor neurone disease is a rare condition.
About two in every 100,000 Brits develop it each year.
It affects specialist nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing the function of motor neurons to break down.
When this neurodegeneration occurs, everyday activities become increasingly difficult or completely impossible.
Over time, the condition progressively worsens as the muscle weakens and can visibly waste.
The majority of those diagnosed with the disease are given a three-year life expectancy starting from when they first notice the symptoms.
Medics ruled him too unwell to return home to Spain.
Earlier this year Ricksen confirmed he’d spend the rest of his life in the hospice.
He moved there from hospital in November after falling ill at an Ibrox bash.
Bitter city rivals Celtic also released a statement following news of the Ranger’s hero’s passing.
Chief executive Peter Lawwell said: “Everyone at Celtic would like to extend their most sincere and heartfelt sympathies and condolences to the family of Fernando Ricksen following today’s news that he has passed away.
“Fernando was part of Scottish Football for a number of years and for him to be taken so young is a huge tragedy.
“He fought this terrible condition with such courage and we should all admire and respect the inspirational way in which he tackled the challenge which he faced.
“He showed immense bravery throughout. Our thoughts and prayers of course are with Fernando’s family and friends at such a difficult time.”
Ricksen, who won 12 caps for Holland and was signed by Rangers from AZ Alkmaar for £3.75million in 2000, raised awareness and funds to help other sufferers through his foundation.
A benefit match for the Dutchman, held at Ibrox in January 2015, saw over 41,000 fans attend Ibrox and raised £320,000 with the proceeds split between Fernando, his daughter Isabella, MND Scotland and the Rangers Charity Foundation.
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Zenit St Petersburg – the team Ricksen left Rangers to join, initially on loan, in 2006 – also released a statement.
It read: “We’re deeply saddened to hear of the passing of our former player Fernando Ricksen.
“He battled bravely against motor neurone disease right until the end and we are all thinking of him and his family at this difficult time.”
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