Rijkaard- Ice man cometh
Posted by Sports Snob on August 12, 2006
The Ice man is a moniker that Frank Rijkaard wouldn’t have gained on the back of his playing career. As a high profile player for clubs like Ajax and AC Milan, Rijkaard earned a reputation for being hotheaded and impulsive. He had frequent run-ins with his manager and rival players, including a very nasty tiff with Rudi Voeller in Italia 90 where cameras caught him spitting at the German Forward. This incident also spawned his nickname – The lama. He once had a public falling out with Dutch legend Johann Cruyff, an act considered as sacrilege in a country that reveres the inimitable Dutchman. On the pitch however, none could match him for elegance especially in a position that demanded more steel than flair. He formed a formidable combination with his countrymen Gullit and Van Basten both for club and country. They won the European Championship in 1988 and also added the European Cup in 89 and 90 for AC Milan. In 93 he moved to Ajax to playout his remaining years. He won the Champions League again at 1995 beating his old club Milan in the finals, in what was his last game.
Move into management:
Then came the transition to Management, a road less taken by colored folk. Not many black managers existed in Europe at that time- the proverbial glass ceiling existed. But Rijkaard didn’t spend too long in the unemployment office, his fame as a footballer came with post retirement incentives. He took up the opportunity to be assistant to Guus Hiddink for the Dutch National team. Soon, he was nominated to head the Dutch team at Euro 2000. A step which surprised many since he didn’t have the requisite experience to take the role, for which there were more qualified people. It was a bold move and it looked like it was going to be a successful one, But it didn’t have the fairy tale ending that many Oranje followers had hoped for. Despite playing the most exciting football, they stumbled against the Italians in a classic semifinal. Rijkaard promptly resigned despite calls from his federation to stay on. And He was soon speculating his options in the world of management. The next job would make or break his career, at least so he thought. Dutch Club, Sparta Rotterdam came with up an interesting offer to have him in charge of the first team. The move backfired, and Rotterdam was relegated. At this point i had thought that it was the final nail in the coaching career of Frank Rijkaard. Who would appoint an inexperienced manager with an unimpressive resume?! Not many would have predicted his next destination. FC Barcelona, under its new regime, came calling. Joan Laporta, President of FC Barcelona, was the man who earmarked Rijkaard to lead his revolution. Ironically, it was Johan Cruyff who recommended his name to Laporta. Rijkaard duly accepted and amidst many raised eyebrows was introduced as the new Manager of FC Barcelona.
His first six months were the most tumultuous. Every move in the Catalan capital was scrutinized and dissected by the demanding Catalan Press. And for most parts it looked like Rijkaard was exhausting under the pressure to perform. His new signing, Ronaldinho was injured and Barcelona slumped to 8th position in the league, some 18 pts behind Real Madrid. Fortunately, for Rijkaard, Laporta had more confidence in him. He was given more time and he quickly turned things around, thanks in large to the astute signing of Edgar Davids in the winter market. Barcelona finished 2nd in La liga and more importantly higher than their rivals Madrid. The pendulum seemed to have swung the Catalan way. Rijkaard was very busy that year in the Transfer Market; he finally had the choice to sign the players he deemed perfect to play in the system. Deco, Eto’o and Giuly entered. Out went the residue from the previous administration. Kluivert, Enrique and Garcia were shown the door. And Barcelona coasted to a first La liga title in 5 years. They played the most attractive football in Europe and it was Rijkaard who was behind it. His temperament had to be lauded. He was always calm, composed and almost never flustered. However he was outsmarted in the Champions League KO tie with Chelsea. He was gracious in defeat but those close to him knew that the wound was far deeper than what appeared.
The historic double
In the off-season, he made just two signings- Van Bommel and Santi Esquerro. But he was delighted with the emergence of Lionel Messi from La masia- The Barcelona Youth academy. Rjkaard always had a lot of faith in his youth players, especially in Leo Messi and Andres Iniesta. With them, he sought to conquer Europe and win his second la Liga.
The la liga was easier. The competition was faltering and so they raced to a healthy lead by the time it came to the business end of the Champions League, which was Rijkaard’s main focus. He had learnt a lot from his defeat to Chelsea last year. He was more cautious this time around and with the help of Young sensation Leo Messi, they sailed past Chelsea in the second round. Rijkaard was now the epitome of composure and temperament. He would never use a bad word against an opponent or slate any of his players in public. In return his players had a lot of respect for him. Barcelona went on to reach the Champions League final against Arsenal at Paris. Rijkaard played a crucial role, yet again. It were his substitutions – Larsson, Iniesta and Belleti- that saw them through their bitter opposition and also brought to Catalunya its shining moment since Wembley 92. When the team celebrated in the awards ceremony, Rijkaard declined to join the party. The ICE man was happy to stay in the shadows, content with the job well done.