CELTIC manager Neil Lennon has paid a heartfelt tribute to his former Rangers rival Fernando Ricksen.

Lennon squared up to Ricksen, who passed away yesterday following a long and brave battle with motor neurone disease, on many occasions during his playing career at Parkhead.

The Northern Irishman described the 12-times capped Netherlands internationalist as "a fierce competitor" and offered his condolences to his family.

Speaking from France where is preparing for a Europa League game against Rennes this evening, Lennon said: “I’m upset because he was a big player and personality in my era.

"To lose him at 43 is cruel. There but for the grace of God go I.

“Six years he had to battle it and it is awful. When it actually does come it is still a shock no matter what side of the fence you are on.

“I think we are all united in grief for him and his family. He was a fierce competitor and the rivalry was great.

“We played in a great era in Glasgow when the two teams were chocful of superstars, really.

“Fernando matured and got better as he went on, to the point when he was Player of the Year.

“I would send my condolences to his family, to Rangers and to his team-mates who played with him, because I am sure they are feeling the loss as well.”