After hearing the verdict the former Zenit-player had MND, way back in 2013, Ricksen knew he would be the first human to beat the disease. But the battle wasn't fair, and in the end the disease got him down. The former blue-white sky blue player died on the 18th of September 2019, in a hospice in Scotland.
However, Ricksen died knowing that he had put MND on the map. Thanks to the way the Dutchman, who won the UEFA Cup with Zenit and won league titles in Russia and Scotland, had tried to defeat it. He battled the way he did on the football pitch: open and without any restraint.
“Typically Fernando”, says Veronika Ricksen, his Russian widow who wrote the book together with Dutch author Vincent de Vries. “That's why he insisted on this book. To show that you should never give up. That you always have to keep fighting. And that no matter how shaky the future may be, it is still possible to live, to love and to be happy”.
The book - which captures his emotional returns to Ibrox, the near-death experiences, the pain and the fear, the craziness that was still inside and his meetings with Johan Cruyff, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi - may have taken months to write, but it was years in the making and was done with Ricksen’s approval long before he died.
De Vries said: “He wanted to show what MND does to the life of the person who has the disease, mentally and physically. Everyone knew about Fernando’s fight and he wanted this book written to give people a better understanding of what he and the others who have MND go through and what families go through because their lives change completely when a loved one gets this illness. Fernando wanted to be an inspiration, not only to people with MND but to everyone who is sick. He was determined to live his life as long as possible.”
When you are diagnosed and told you have only four months to live, De Vries said, a lot of people might bend down to that news. But Fernando was the opposite. “He knew it was not possible to live his life as he did before he had MND, but he showed it was also possible to be positive and there’s no doubt his mental strength and attitude enabled him to live for six years, rather than four months, with this illness. He told me that being a sportsman, you learn how to deal with disappointment, because you can’t win every game.”
Fernando had disappointments as well as success in his career and he believed learning to handle those disappointments prepared him mentally for the fight he had to stay alive for so long, De Vries said. “Another motivation was his little daughter Isabella. He fought every day to stay in her life for as long as he could.”
Ricksen died in a Scottish hospice having been too ill to return home. Veronika Ricksen and Vincent de Vries visited him often and the book’s author revealed the Ibrox icon’s attitude towards the cards he’d been dealt impacted upon his own behaviour around his friend. “He told me, ‘I have to stay positive. The alternative is to sit in the corner, close the curtains and cry in my room. That would drive me crazy’.”
That’s why Ricksen went to as many meet and greets and functions as he could. “He went to games when he could, even when he was in a wheelchair and you’ve no idea how much of an effort that was for him. He would be exhausted at the end of the day but getting out, knowing how much he meant to so many people, gave him a lot of positive energy to carry on his fight.”
“I visited him so often at the hospice in Airdrie and I didn’t see the difference in him as much as other people did. But in the process of doing the book, I looked at some pictures of him from three years earlier and I was in shock. I would sit with him and I would be telling myself, ‘Do not cry in front of him’. He was so strong so I couldn’t show him my feelings.”
“I did my crying back at the hotel because every time I left the hospice I didn’t know if it would be the last time I’d see him alive. Then one time it was. But that last walk though the city – that was something I’ll always remember.”
* FERNANDO RICKSEN THE FINALE BATTLE – Life with MND is available for £16,99 and in e-book form for £9,99 via fernandothebook.com.
Fernando Ricksen | The Final Battle - Life with MND | Vincent de Vries & Veronika Ricksen | print, 9789082301618, £16.99 | ebook, 9789082301663 £9.99 | Publication June 22nd 2020