Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez has this message of support for ex-Liverpool defender after his early retirement

Rafa Benitez has this message for the ex-Liverpool defender
Rafa Benitez has this message for the ex-Liverpool defender

Newcastle United boss Rafa Benitez has become the latest high-profile figure to send his well wishes to full-back Stephen Darby.

Darby, 29, had not played competitive football since December and yesterday announced his early retirement after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease.

The right-back began his career at hometown club Liverpool, where he was handed a debut in November 2008 by then-manager Benitez.

Spells at Swindon, Notts County, Rochdale and Bradford followed during a career which has sadly been brought to a premature end after over 320 senior appearances.

The Professional Footballers' Association has vowed to support Darby, husband of Manchester City defender and England captain Steph Houghton, who is from South Hetton.

Darby and Houghton, 30, were married in June and the couple have received hundreds of messages of support on social media.

And Benitez has become the latest to send a message of support to the former Liverpool youngster, whom he worked with closely during his time at Anfield.

"I was proud to give Stephen Darby his Liverpool debut and now I am deeply saddened to learn of his retirement," said Benitez, in a post on his Twitter account.

"Stephen is a special person and he has my total support. He will never walk alone."

Darby's former clubs expressed their sympathy, with a message on Liverpool's Twitter feed reading: "Liverpool Football Club are saddened by the news of Stephen Darby's retirement after he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease. The thoughts of everyone at the club are with Stephen and his family at this time."