The footballer tragically lost wife Rebecca to cancer in 2015

Rio Ferdinand has emotionally spoken of how his late wife gave her blessing to him finding love again after her death.

The former footballer – who has recently gone public with ex-TOWIE star Kate Wright – reveals in his new autobiography that Rebecca told close friend Lisa that she hoped Rio wouldn’t be alone in the future if she lost her battle with cancer.

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‘Rebecca told Lisa something in the final weeks of her life,’ Rio, 38, writes in the book.

‘Months later Lisa told me what it was . . . “It kills me to think of Rio with a new partner, Lisa, you know it does. Of course it does.

‘“But you know what kills me even more? Thinking of him alone and lonely.

‘“If I don’t make it, Lisa, I don’t want Rio to be miserable. I want him to be happy”.’

In Thinking Out Loud: Love, Grief and Being Mum and Dad, Rio also opens about his blossoming romance with Kate, 26, for the first time.

The sports star – who had children Lorenz, 11, Tate, 9, and Tia, 6, with Rebecca before she passed away in 2015 – reveals how he felt when he first got to know Kate earlier this year and was touched to receive the blessing of Rebecca’s best friend.

‘To my total surprise, I met someone and at first I wasn’t sure I should let free my feelings,’ Rio explains.

‘In an emotionally vulnerable state, one’s judgment can be all over the place.

‘I wanted to get to know this beautiful young woman better and, as I have done on occasions, turned to Lisa for advice.

‘Of all the things Lisa has done for me, this may have been the hardest. Rebecca had been her best friend.

‘It’s a measure of Lisa’s love that she put aside her feelings, offered friendship to this stranger and gave the relationship her wholehearted encouragement. I will be forever in her debt.’

Rio and Kate have continued to slowly go more and more public with their relationship, having shared an Instagram photo together on holiday for the first time last month.

Kate broke her silence on the romance recently and revealed that she’s stepping back from her showbiz life to focus on Rio and his children.

‘I’m taking a step back from the public eye,’ she told The Sun. ‘I want to keep my life private as I lived my previous relationship on TOWIE, my priority right now is Rio and the family.’