Lorenzo Amoruso hails Fernando Ricksen’s spirit

Fernando Ricksen and Lorenzo Amoruso enjoy League Cup victory over Celtic in 2000. Picture: Reuters
Fernando Ricksen and Lorenzo Amoruso enjoy League Cup victory over Celtic in 2000. Picture: Reuters
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The ties that bind us can be many and varied, be they family, friendship, schooldays or workplace, or even as loose an association as membership of a football team.

Professional footballers these days are often seen as globetrotting mercenaries, with no great loyalty to clubs or fellow players. Yet, when tragedy strikes a current player or former colleague, the true nature of the sport and its people comes to the fore, as the ties are genuine and binding.

The dire news yesterday that former Rangers player Fernando Ricksen is suffering from motor neurone disease at the age of just 37 occasioned proof yet again that football looks after its own.

Such a pledge was made by Lorenzo Amoruso, Ricksen’s former defensive colleague with Rangers more than a decade ago, who is now back home in Italy looking for a club to manage or direct while being a television pundit.

“I was shocked when I heard the news,” said Amoruso. “You don’t expect to hear something like that. I know Fernando’s character and he did everything at 100 miles per hour – training, eating, everything. Sometimes he couldn’t hold even his words and they came tumbling out of his mouth.

“Knowing him like I do, it is so strange and sad to know that he is facing this disease. It is not easy or nice to think like that about a guy who was sitting beside me in a dressing room just a few years ago – fighting for victories and for trophies.

“I believe everyone who knew Fernando at Rangers will be there for him. The ex-players often meet up for charity matches and other events, so we are still in touch. If Fernando needs anything then I am sure we will all be there to help him in any way we can.

“When you have been a Ranger, you will always be a Ranger. The team I was part of was a unit on the pitch and off it. When we left the club, we knew that the family of Rangers would always be there for us.”

Ricksen falling victim to the same hitherto incurable disease that killed Celtic’s greatest-ever player, Jimmy Johnstone, has shocked the Ibrox club and its support to the core, and Amoruso expects all involved with Rangers to rally round Ricksen as happened with Celtic and the man they called Jinky.

Amoruso said: “Jimmy Johnstone was one of the top-class players in the history of British football. I don’t know how much the science has changed from the time he had the illness.

“But I am sure every Rangers fan will care about what is happening to Fernando. I am positive about that. Everyone will be right behind him to try to give him support and help his morale.

“It doesn’t matter if you have been a top-class player or a youth player. If you have been a good man, then the fans will support you.”

Amoruso has very fond recollections of Ricksen the mercurial player and personality: “I’ve got some great memories about Fernando in the dressing room or outside in town, when we used to go celebrating, drinking, eating.

“That’s Fernando. In my head he is a simple guy who used to be the same way on the pitch and off the pitch.

“Sometimes we had to control him, especially if you get a bit drunk, but that’s the best part of Fernando.

“There are a lot of memories. He never stops trying to make the team all together and create a good spirit. That’s why I’m positive about him.”

Amoruso hopes that a cure can be found and he expects Ricksen to battle it all the way.

“‘I don’t know much about this disease,” said Amoruso. “I just hope that the treatment and science now can help Fernando. He was the type on the pitch who would always face up to problems and overcome them.

“Fernando never gave up as a player. He faced a bad period when he first came to the club and was trying to adapt. I had the same, but because of injury problems.

“But the great player, the great man, can face up to these problems and come through the other side. Fernando was always that way. He came through his early problems and became a very important player for Rangers.”

It seemed almost trivial by comparison, but Amoruso was in Scotland to promote the William Hill Scottish Cup in which Rangers face fellow League One side Airdrie in the Third Round tonight. The winners could receive a lucrative Fourth Round tie when the SPFL Premiership clubs – Celtic included – enter the competition.

“The Scottish Cup is a message to the Rangers supporters and to the other teams that Rangers can do well,” said Amoruso.

“If Rangers face a team in the Premiership and beat them then the gap between Rangers and the Premiership will get closer and closer year after year.

“The league is, I’m not saying won, but seems to be like training.

“Rangers have improved from last year as a unit, in team spirit, and this season they are cruising so easily.

“That will be another season where Ally (McCoist) will improve the whole squad, the whole team, eventually finding against a bigger team in the Scottish Cup where this team needs to be improved.

“That is the only solution Rangers have because if you don’t play against big teams you don’t really know what is the problem.”

Sadly, everyone now knows the problem that Fernando Ricksen faces.

It is only to be hoped that medical science, his own courage and the support of everyone in football can assist him in this hour of ultimate need.