EVERYONE knew to expect the worst, but it didn’t make the news any easier to take when I heard that Fernando Ricksen had passed away on Wednesday morning.

Fernando fought Motor Neurone Disease with such heart, spirit and determination and the legacy he leaves behind as a man, as well as a player, is huge. What a fight he put up and what a guy he was.

When Fernando was first diagnosed in 2013, people were in a state of shock. How could someone who was so fit and healthy during his playing career now face being cut down in the prime of his life?

The deterioration in him over the last few years has been so difficult to watch but he defied those who said he would only live for a couple of years and he fought MND with everything that he had.

That didn’t surprise me one bit because that was Fernando. On the park, he was a fighter, a battler, and that strength of character and spirit has kept him alive a lot longer than many thought possible.

I remember when he was diagnosed and he said he was going to fight it. He knew nobody had ever beaten it, but his attitude was to meet this challenge head on and fight until his last breath.

Over the years, he lost the ability to walk and then lost the ability to talk. His mind was there, but his body just wasn’t and it was so difficult to see.

For those that knew him best – his family, his friends and his former team-mates – it was heart-breaking to watch someone get weaker and weaker as the months went on.

I heard on Friday that he might not make it through the night because he was really struggling and his breathing was bad. The doctors and his family were very concerned about him then.

But Fernando never gave up and he fought on for another couple of days. That certainly didn’t surprise me but when I heard the sad news I was just devastated.

I have been at a number of the charity matches and events that have been held over the years to raise money for his family and for research into MND and those efforts meant so much to Fernando and those close to him.

He would often get really emotional at these functions but he knew he was making a difference to other people by raising awareness and funds. If he wasn’t going to beat MND, he wanted to give another sufferer the best chance possible.

I saw him a couple of weeks ago and it brought tears to your eyes every time you met up with him. It was so hard to comprehend how such a character could end up like that.

Fernando’s story was tragic but it was inspiring as well. He was struck down all of a sudden and it shows that you never know what is round the corner for you in life.

That is why you have to cherish what you have, because you never know what hand you will be dealt next. It puts everything into perspective and it certainly puts football in perspective.

As a player, Fernando made his name as a terrific leader and he will be so fondly remembered by the Rangers supporters for all that he achieved in his career at Ibrox.

Helicopter Sunday was arguably the pinnacle of his time in Glasgow. He captained the side on that famous afternoon and what a moment that was for the players, the staff and the fans.

Fernando gave everything for the jersey. If he had to be a wee bit nasty at times, he was.

But he was a winner, a man that left everything out there for the club and his team-mates and the fans will always take to someone with that attitude.

You always get players that the crowd don’t like or rate, but I don’t think you will get many that didn’t love Fernando Ricksen as a Ranger.

You get players these days that kiss the badge or say things on social media to endear themselves to people. That wasn’t Fernando, he did it where it mattered most and that was on the park.

He did it for his team-mates, he did it for the fans and he did it for the club that he grew to love. Rangers had a special place in Fernando’s heart and he will have a place in Ibrox history forever more.

That will be the case at every club Fernando played for. He had two spells at Fortuna Sittard, joined Rangers from AZ and moved onto Zenit St Petersburg.

He also represented the Netherlands and that tells you all you need to know about the quality of player that he was.

Whether he played at right-back or in midfield, he was a very, very good player and I know he cherished the success that he had during his six years in Glasgow.

This is a sad day for everyone at Rangers Football Club but the tributes that have come in from across Scottish football, and from across the game all over the world, tell you all you need to know about the high esteem that Fernando Ricksen was held in.

It will be an emotional night when Rangers host Feyenoord in the Europa League and Steven Gerrard’s side play their first game since Fernando’s passing.

It would be so fitting if Rangers could win it for Fernando and pay tribute to him at Ibrox.

Like everyone, I have felt so sorry for him in recent years. But it is his family that have had to endure this for the last seven years and it must be so difficult for them right now.

They are certainly in our thoughts and prayers at this moment in time. They have lost the number one person in their life but they know that Fernando Ricksen - footballer, captain, friend and father - will never be forgotten.