Football/Soccer

Celtic boss Neil Lennon upset by 'devastating loss' of Fernando Ricksen

Celtic manager Neil Lennon paid tribute to the late Fernando Ricksen, a man with whom he shared many battles on the field during their playing pomp. Picture by PA
By Gavin McCafferty, PA

CELTIC manager Neil Lennon was devastated to hear of the death of his former midfield rival Fernando Ricksen yesterday.

The ex-Holland international, who made more than 250 appearances for Rangers between 2000 and 2006, had been fighting motor neurone disease for six years.

Lennon faced up to the former Ibrox skipper in numerous Old Firm derbies over the years and paid tribute following the 43-year-old's death.

"It's tragic," said Lennon, who was in France ahead of Celtic's Europa League contest with Rennes tonight.

"I am very, very upset for his family obviously, for someone who I played against in many battles in a time when both teams were very, very strong in Glasgow, in a very good era in Scottish football.

"And for the Glasgow public to lose him at such a young age is devastating. He put up an unbelievable fight.

"As a player he got better and better in his time at Rangers, to the point he became player of the year. He turned out to be an outstanding footballer, a great competitor.

"He was emotional to start with in his career but he really matured into a very fine player. Our condolences go to his family and Glasgow Rangers as well.

"It's a huge loss and I have felt it myself, for someone who I played against for a long, long time."

Meanwhile, Rennes head coach Julien Stephan believes Celtic are very near the standard of Europa League rivals Lazio as he warned his team that getting out of their group would be harder than last season.

The Bhoys kick off their group campaign in Brittany while their Champions League conquerors, Cluj, take on the Italians. Rennes reached the last 16 last season, finishing ahead of Jablonec and Astana and behind Dinamo Kiev, before beating Real Betis and losing to Arsenal.

But Stephan said: "It will be completely different group from last year, we think it's a stronger team. They are used to winning national titles, every year almost, they have won eight titles in a row.

"They are a team who are usually in the Champions League and they have huge experience with many internationals.

"We know they can play in the air and they are very technical. They are a very, very good team and have technical players like (Callum) McGregor, (Ryan) Christie, (James) Forrest, just to mention a few.

"They are well balanced and we know how difficult it will be but we are lucky to play at home and the supporters are going to play a big role in a potential win for us.

"I do believe Celtic are one of the favourites. As far as experience they should be able to perform well, maybe just behind Lazio."

Stephan has lost half of the team that won the French Cup earlier this year but Rennes sit second in the table after beating leaders Paris St Germain during their opening five matches.

"It's a new team, a new season, there is a new story to be told and we need to construct a story with a new team," he said. "We can't compare this year with last year, last year is history.

"We are in the process of rebuilding and the group is evolving. We have had a very good start in the league and we need to take it into Europe."

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