THINK Scottish football’s very own pantomime villain Fernando Ricksen and punch-ups, piss-ups and push-ups immediately spring to mind.
How long Ricksen will continue to play for the club is presently a matter of debate. The Ibrox club’s trip to Dunfermline for today’s final Premierleague game of the season may also mark the last appearance in Rangers colours for a man who attracts trouble like iron fillings to a magnet the size of Kilimanjaro. Stalling on a new contract with only a year remaining on his present deal, if Ricksen doesn’t commit shortly Rangers manager Alex McLeish has stated that he will be forced to seek a summer sale for the midfielder. Which club though, it must be said, would want to acquire a footballer who has so often acted in a manner suggesting he might shortly be committed?
Ricksen’s Ibrox career reads like a Loaded centre spread. We have had the crazed on-field assaults, the crazed off-field assaults and, just for good measure, crazed pursuits of all manner of women that included no less than the pneumatically-accommodating Jordan. Last weekend, however, we had a new one. A crazy episode in which Ricksen was presented, not without good cause, as a victim.
If any other player had been deliberately wound up with a tap to the cheek, as was the case when Alan Thompson raised his hand to Ricksen’s face in the aftermath of Celtic’s last-minute winner at Parkhead, the perpetrator would have been lambasted, at the very least. But even when being wronged, Ricksen can’t seem to find himself in the right. Which is probably the result of form that would shame any old prison lag. A charge sheet, indeed, that includes shouting through his then-neighbour Thompson’s letterbox at the end of a night on the lash following Rangers title win last year.
The Dutchman was deemed as much sinner as sinned against because he fell for Thompson’s bait last Saturday. In so doing, he allowed his hair-trigger mentality to get the better of him, and, in typically wild-eyed fashion, chased the Celtic midfielder halfway across the park once the final whistle had sounded before having to be restrained. Only then to claim, nonsensically, that he had been viciously slapped.
"I think Fernando does get victimised," McLeish said of the SFA’s failure to sanction Thompson. "We will move on and hope they take stock of future possible happenings on the field and treat Rangers more fairly."
All well and good. Only that, in a spectacular piece of bad timing, the self-same day a happy, smiley Ricksen was pictured in the press handing over the keys to a Variety Club bus paid for with a 10,000 fine the club imposed on him for elbowing Derek Riordan in the face during February’s CIS Cup semi-final. An attack that was genuinely thuggish and unprovoked.
In a thoughtful interview he once gave to this newspaper, one in which he offered a stirring denouncement of sectarianism, Ricksen played the poor mouth in claiming that: "I’m only human. I make mistakes. I’m not the only one. People do more stupid things than me, really stupid things." Oh really, Fernando?
There is a more than half- decent player inside Ricksen who, amidst the kicking and screaming, is struggling to get out. The loose boots, arms and, even, words set him up for more falls than a National Hunt jockey. Rarely has there been a player as seemingly incapable of preventing himself becoming tabloid fodder as the 27-year-old. You might have thought Ricksen would have recognised the wisdom of lying low this week. Instead, acting sadly to type, he gave an interview branding Thompson a "coward" and confessing that he told his despised rival to meet him after the game "face to face" to show him "who was the tough guy then".
Such behaviour surely would lead psychologists to the conclusion that the man who has admitted to being hyperactive as a child can, too easily, become unhinged as an adult. This has been evident from his the early days of an Ibrox career set in motion when Dick Advocaat paid AZ Alkmaar 3.75m for the services of the Dutch international in July 2000. Ricksen arrived with a reputation for being a hothead but it could not be anticipated that molten lava would sometimes spew from his cranium.
Six weeks into the season, his Old Firm debut was to last only 23 minutes, Advocaat hooking him because the player had lost the plot as Bobby Petta led him a merry dance. "I wanted to come off after a minute, the gaffer did me a favour," Ricksen later admitted. Celtic’s 6-2 victory that day was to prove fundamental to the balance of power shifting to Martin O’Neill’s side, this in large part down to Ricksen completely failing his new club.
As he did again in being red-carded in his next Old Firm encounter, which came after he had been dropped for the intervening two derbies. In all he has been sent off on four occasions - three against Celtic - and picked up 33 cautions in his time at Ibrox. Yet, it is the misdemeanour that initially went unpunished which probably remains his most infamous aberration.
There was something wickedly amusing about his kung-fu kick on Aberdeen’s Darren Young in November 2000. An offence he compounded by claiming on his website that the player deserved it. This lawlessness led to his being given a three-match ban after the SFA reviewed video evidence. Following on from a similar sanction for his elbow on Riordan, he is now the only player to twice fall foul of the football authorities in this manner.
And so it goes on and on, with his private life as troubled as his professional one. On Christmas Day 2002 he smashed his 4x4 into a lamp post and had to be handcuffed after swearing at police when arrested on a drink-driving charge. Found to be twice over the limit, he was later banned from driving for a year.
Incredibly, this came only a month after he was charged with assault and breach of the peace for an altercation with a neighbour who did not take kindly to Ricksen setting off a huge rocket at 5am in his plush Newton Mearns estate. Again he was later convicted, incurring a 7,000 fine. Money would appear to slip effortlessly through Ricksen’s finger with a 6,000 unpaid tax bill earning him further unwanted publicity.
Then there have been the alleged infidelities. He became estranged from his wife, Graciela, and her 13-year-old son, Wim, after going on a seven-day bender to celebrate Rangers’ title win last summer, memorably taking home a lap-dancer whom he watched bouncing up and down on a trampoline in his garden. The names of several other would-be belles found their way into the papers as Ricksen appeared to carouse like there was no tomorrow in being left home alone by a wife who fled back to Holland.
Maybe Ricksen’s mum must take some responsibility for her son leading a life that, time and again, seems the manifestation of pure machismo. Calling her son after a cheesy Abba song can only have created the need for him to prove he was not the nancy boy that the less open-minded - and there are plenty of playground teasers in that bracket - might have assumed from his moniker.
Ultimately, however, Ricksen brings grief full-square down upon himself. Never was this better illustrated than over a 12-hour period one day last October. This began with McLeish speaking of the need for Ricksen to keep himself off the front pages, with the fine for fireworks shenanigans announced that afternoon. With Ricksen’s wife now back by his side, the Rangers manager stated that he hoped the player would settle down. That night the Dutchman was seen canoodling with Jordan in a lap-dancing club. The man is incorrigible.