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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Book Review: "Fighting Spirit" by Fernando Ricksen with Vincent de Vries

Image credit: Amazon.com.

A former Dutch international, Fernando Ricksen, discusses his life on and off of the pitch in a compelling autobiography co-authored with Vincent de Vries. This book was expertly translated from the Dutch by Michiel Blijboom.

Discussion Items

1. Organized Format
2. Writing Style
3. Images
4. Conclusion
5. About the Authors

"I'd be sitting there at Murray Park, having a cup of tea and some breakfast, just minding my own business, taking it easy. The way I like it. And then the doors would burst open and in he'd come. Always at 100 mph. Fernando did everything at 100 mph --- it's just the way he is...

Now he is fighting a battle against a killer disease. The idea is that he can't win this fight. But we're talking about Fernando Ricksen here. Not many people can fight like him. Just wait and see, the guy is not going to give up just like that."

--- Barry Ferguson quoted in the Foreword.

"I had to face it: I had been drunk and disorderly for years now. I had kicked my way through life as a football hooligan with an insatiable thirst. Thanks to that, my life was in tatters. It was just as the guy with the pencil in front of me said. I knew it, but I'd never wanted to show it to anyone. Scared shitless to lose all the respect I had gained over the years."

--- Fernando Ricksen quoted in Chapter One, "Little Chicago," from Fighting Spirit: The Autobiography of Fernando Ricksen with Vincent de Vries, translated by Michiel Blijboom, and published by Arena Sport in 2014 at a Kindle version price of US $9.99.

Fernando Jacob Hubertina Henricka Ricksen was named after the famous ABBA song in the 1970s, "Fernando." He grew up with an affinity for billiards that was inherited from his maternal grandfather, Willem. But like most Dutch boys, Fernando eventually decided to focus solely on voetbal.

Ricken came up through the Roda JC youth ranks before moving to Fortuna Sittard where he signed his first professional contract. He then transferred to AZ Alkmaar before becoming a cult figure at Rangers. Ricksen also spent a few seasons at Zenit St. Petersburg before his retirement in 2013 back with his first club, Fortuna Sittard.

In September 2013, Ricksen received the worst red card of his life: A diagnosis of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which is also know as Lou Gehrig's Disease or ALS. A recent benefit friendly for Ricksen at Ibrox in Glasgow raised significant funds and public awareness of this affliction. In a recent interview from Glasgow, Ricksen stated, "I want to be the first person to beat motor neuron disease."

Let's take a look at the book's contents.

1. Organized Format

There was a foreword by Barry Ferguson, nineteen chapters, along with an epilogue where Ricksen concisely addressed his recent medical diagnosis. The co-authors also added a concise career summary that detailed Ricksen's playing days.
  • Chapter 1: Old Chicago
  • Chapter 2: Lager, Lager
  • Chapter 3: Breakthrough
  • Chapter 4: The Wild West
  • Chapter 5: Doubts
  • Chapter 6: Bull's Eye
  • Chapter 7: Off Track
  • Chapter 8: Girls, Girls, Girls
  • Chapter 9: Jackpot
  • Chapter 10: Orange
  • Chapter 11: Life Sentence
  • Chapter 12: Relief
  • Chapter 13: Russia
  • Chapter 14: A New Home
  • Chapter 15: Success
  • Chapter 16: Downhill
  • Chapter 17: Collision Course
  • Chapter 18: Return
  • Chapter 19: Resignation
  • Epilogue
  • Career Timeline
2. Writing Style

The co-authors weaved a fascinating tale about the protagonist's life which was presented as a blend of humor, candor, prosaic wit and a few doses of more serious observations. There is significant dialogue in this book which makes it appear that Ricksen is having a personal conversation with the reader. Perhaps, as he looked back on the many twists and turns in his career on and off of the pitch, this book had a cathartic effect. To revise Barry Ferguson's quote above, Ricksen recounts his life story at 100 mph. And in this case, that is not a bad thing.

For example:

"Can you hear the drums, Fernando?"

--- Introduction quoting lyrics from "Fernando" by ABBA of Sweden.

 "Clarence Seedorf: I couldn't believe my eyes when I had to shower with him after a under 16s match. Those legs! Concrete! And a six-pack to end all six-packs. Un-be-liev-able!"

--- Chapter 2, Lager, Lager

" 'If you continue like this, you have a great future ahead of you.' I think I nodded, or maybe I said yes. Definitely no more than that. For this was the one and only Johan Cruyff, the greatest Dutch footballer of all time. And in the presence of Johan Cruyff, even Fernando Ricksen is quiet."

--- Chapter 3: Breakthrough

3. Images

A variety of pictures were included from Ricken's personal and professional life. My favorites were one of Fernando with Johan Cruyff (receiving a Best Young Player of the Year award) and a recent family portrait with his wife, Veronika, and their young daughter, Isabella.

4. Conclusion

Fernando Ricksen and Vincent de Vries have authored a candid life retrospective with few holds barred. Fighting Spirit will make a valuable addition to your football library.

5. About the Authors

Fernando Ricksen was born in Hoensbroek in 1976 and played professional football for Fortuna Sittard, AZ Alkmaar, Rangers and Zenit St. Petersburg as well as gaining international honours for the Netherlands. He lives in Maaseik, Belgium, with his wife Veronika and their daughter Isabella. 

Vincent de Vries is a senior sportswriter from the Netherlands. He is a freelance journalist for Panorama, ELF Voetbal, Helden Magazine, Life After Football, Men's Health, Quote and the Dutch Soccer Federation (KNVB) among many other publications.

Biographical text courtesy of Amazon.com.

Please Note

I did not receive a complimentary review copy from the publisher, Arena Sport. I was not financially compensated by the publisher, co-authors or any party who would benefit from a positive review.

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Steve Amoia is a freelance writer and translator from Washington, D.C. He is the publisher of World Football Commentaries since 2006 and The Soccer Translator since 2008. 

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