English soccer star Rio Ferdinand paid tribute to his "wonderful wife" after she passed away following a cancer diagnosis.

The former England and Manchester United captain married Rebecca Ellison in 2009, and they have three children. "My soul mate slipped away last night," the 36-year-old said in a statement on the website of his current club Queens Park Rangers. Rebecca, my wonderful wife, passed away peacefully after a short battle with cancer at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London. She was a fantastic loving mother to our three beautiful children.

"She will be missed as a wife, sister, aunt, daughter and granddaughter. She will live on in our memory, as a guide and inspiration." Ferdinand, who asked that his family be "allowed to mourn privately," did not play in QPR's match at Liverpool on Saturday and his teammates wore black arm bands in honor of his wife, while Leroy Fer unveiled a T-shirt saying "Stay strong family Ferdinand" after scoring an equalizing goal.

"Rio has been a man mountain around the place," said QPR manager Chris Ramsey after a 2-1 defeat that left his team second from bottom with three matches to play. He's had the weight of the world on his shoulders but you wouldn't know that. He's a fantastic professional and conducts himself in a terrific manner. He's trained hard; he's not moped around the place.

Now all our thoughts are with him and his family. We all hope they can find the strength to pull through in this tragic time." Fans at Manchester United, where Ferdinand won six Premier League titles and a European crown in a 12-year stay, also paid tribute during their home game against West Bromwich Albion. Both sets of players wore black armband while fans chanted the name of United's former defensive stalwart, who played 81 times for England and was selected for three World Cups.

Ferdinand has a big social-media fan base, with over 6 million followers on Twitter, 5.6 million likes on his Facebook page and 612,000 on Instagram. He received online condolences from a wide array of fellow footballers such as Gary Lineker, Peter Schmeichel and Michael Essien. He has struggled at QPR to regain the form that made him Britain's most expensive player when United signed him for £30 million from Leeds in 2002.

The former West Ham centre-half, who signed a one-year contract with Rangers, said in October that he will retire at the end of this season.