Fernando Ricksen

Dan Brennan looks back at the antics of the hot-headed former Rangers player. Until his move to Russia, no SPL player could rest easy, not to mention the Glaswegian suburbs

Last summer, Dutch midfielder Fernando Ricksen checked himself into the Sporting Chance clinic, a rehab centre founded by Tony Adams, for help with his drink problem and with “anger management”.

“I knew that I could lose everything: my family, my football, actually my whole life,” he later explained. “I had a choice: I can continue and think that I’m feeling fine, in which case I lose everything, or, as the Dutch say, I bite the sour apple, take ­responsibility and fight for myself.”

Fighting is something Ricksen has always done very well. This, after all, is a man who could start a rumpus in the proverbial empty room. In six years at Rangers, he left a trail of mayhem across Scotland, on and off the pitch.

Having joined Rangers for £3.6 million from AZ Alkmaar in summer 2000, Ricksen swiftly established himself as a favourite hate figure among opposing fans. In a traditionally spite-laden fixture with Aberdeen in November 2000, he set the tone for what was to come by delivering a karate kick to the Dons’ Darren Young. The referee missed it, but Ricksen subsequently became the first player to be tried by video evidence and was banned. On his personal website after the game, he explained: “Someone had to straighten him out.”

Had anyone at Rangers bothered to have a word with some of Ricksen’s former Alkmaar team-mates, they would have had a fairly clear idea of what was to come. “An imbecile and a headcase, and believe me, when he gets a new contract you’ll see he’ll do nothing,” warned Barry van Galen, while another former team-mate, José Fortes Rodriguez, offered an equally unflattering verdict: “In all my time in professional football he was the most anti-social person I have ever met; during training there were so many incidents with him – things you wouldn’t believe. He’s missing something in his head. He was unpredictable and uncontrollable and everyone was glad when he was moved on.”

A sentiment doubtless shared by residents of Newton Mearns, a sedate, well heeled suburb of Glasgow, which has been a long-favoured address for players on both sides of the Old Firm divide.

In November 2002, a party Ricksen had thrown for visiting Dutch friends only got going in the early hours, when the drunken host discovered some fireworks and started letting them off. This was much to the annoyance of neighbour Andrew Killen, whose children were woken by the noise. When he came out to speak to Ricksen, the latter shoved him on the chin and shoulder, reportedly issuing him with a menacing warning: “You know what will happen if you don’t go home. I know where you live.” Having originally denied the offence, Ricksen eventually pleaded guilty to charges of assault and breach of the peace and was fined £7,000. A month later he was in trouble with the law again. On Christmas Day he crashed his car into a tree while two times over the legal blood-alcohol limit and lost his licence.

Killen was seemingly not the only one of Ricksen’s neighbours to suffer his ASBO tendencies. After Rangers pipped their arch-rivals to the 2003 league title, the Dutchman was alleged to have shouted abuse through the letterbox of the bloke who lived next door – Celtic midfielder Alan Thompson.

Then last summer came the incident that prompted his decision to check in at the Sporting Chance clinic. When Rangers flew out to South Africa for their pre-season tour, Ricksen had been hitting the sauce again and unleashed a verbal tirade against an air hostess. Where previous regimes had tolerated his misdemeanours, being content to dish out fines and admonishments, new boss Paul Le Guen – a stickler for decorum – insisted that he be shown the door.

The Dutchman left Scotland, claiming, with remarkable conviction, that he had been misunderstood: “I didn’t feel at home any more. I felt very undervalued and treated poorly by the people, especially the press, who kept judging me on mistakes I had made years earlier.” He found salvation in the arms of an old mentor, Dick Advocaat, now head coach of Zenit St Petersburg. Ricksen admitted to harbouring doubts, initially joining on loan: “I thought, ‘This is Russia, a dark country, and cold, with rough people,’ so I told Dick that I wanted to see what it was like and I would decide after. Once I arrived it immediately felt good and I didn’t leave.” So much so that he made the move permanent.

Determined to make a clean break, on his first day he told his new team-mates about his drink problem. Russia being a country where a man who abstains from alcohol is generally regarded as untrustworthy, he was afforded a warm welcome. Zenit, though presumably not in Ricksen’s honour, have even unveiled novel plans to build a pipeline funnelling beer directly into their new stadium from the local brewery.

Any hopes that his stint in rehab had reformed the Dutchman proved short-lived. Barely a month after joining Zenit, the demons resurfaced as Ricksen got into a fight, this time with his own captain, Vladislav Radimov, during a match against Rostov. Then, in January this year, it happened again, as Ricksen challenged his captain’s decision to take a corner during a pre-season friendly in Malaga and fists flew once more. Both players were sent off and had to be physically separated by Advocaat, who forced them to issue a public apology: “We can promise that the conflict has been resolved and this kind of thing will never happen again,” they told the club’s website.Somehow, you have to doubt it.

From WSC 244 June 2007. What was happening this month