With Frank Rijkaard odds on favourite to be the next Liverpool boss, and the Reds in the unthinkable, and unenviable position at the foot of the table, it’s worth having a look back through the Dutchman’s legacy as manager of one of the greatest teams to win the Champions League. Liverpool, after all, are in search of a unique leader that can inject confidence and a sense of direction as quickly as possible.
If we cast our minds back to the appointment of Frank for Barcelona (or watch the fantastic BBC documentary Barca: The Inside Story–much easier done, and very enjoyable to note), the fans were far from ecstatic. The appointment was made off the back of a successful spell coaching the Netherlands national side in the Euro 2000 competition, reaching the semi-finals. Rijkaard then tried his luck at managing in the domestic leagues with Sparta Rotterdam, who were relegated under his charge.
Joan Laporta was elected club president of Barcelona in 2003, and promised prosperous times to the people of Catalonia. Laporta appointed Rijkaard as the new coach, much to the dismay of fans and the media, and promised that he would do his utmost to ensure that David Beckham would be their first signing. Beckham went to Madrid, but Laporta did secure the services of Ronaldinho, stating his intent to bring Barcelona back to the top of La Liga and in contention for the Champions League.
Barca suffered some of their most embarrassing defeats in his first season in charge, losing el Clasico both home and away. The first half of the same season couldn’t have went any worse with the club lingering just above the relegation zone. Laporta had death threats from fans as he resisted to give into the Barcelona Ultras by keeping Rijkaard as manager, and refusing to give free tickets to hooligans – a first for a Barca president.
The second half of the season was much different, with players such as Ronaldinho and Xavi beginning to live up to their potential. The team finished second in the La Liga, marking the start of a new era for the club.
Rijkaard won La Liga the following two seasons after bringing through a string of youth players that would make up one of the greatest ever European sides. Carlos Puyol, Victor Valdes, Xaxi, Iniesta and a young Lionel Messi were successfully introduced into the team that would go on to beat Arsenal 2-1 in the Champions League final.
Rijkaard retired as Barca manager after two trophy-less seasons. The impact that the Dutchman had on the ailing giants of Spanish football is undeniable. Confidence had left the side, and so had the majority of their best players with Luis Figo doing the unthinkable by joining Real Madrid. Laporta and Rijkaard transformed Barcelona back into the glutinous, trophy consuming club that had once been.
This took time though. Perhaps Roy Hodgson could achieve great things with Liverpool if he’s given the whole season. This seems very unlikely though, and for one thing, Hodgson doesn’t have the fruitful youth setup that Barcelona has. If Rafa Benitez had still been in charge, maybe he’d have the right ideas of how to bring the club up from it’s worst Premier League start. It looks as though time will tell whether the Kop faithful can keep the faith and trust in a manager that will look to start from scratch.
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