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Franklin Of Arabia

June 29, 2011

Take a spin in the time machine and go back to the 18th May 2006. The day before, Barcelona had triumphed over Arsenal to lift the UEFA Champions League and the Dutchman who had guided the Blaugrana to victory was receiving praise from all sectors of the footballing fraternity. He had joined an elite club of men who can say that they’ve won European football’s top prize both as a player and as a Coach. Now leap back to the present day and the highly-respected Dutchman has been handed a financially lucrative contract to take charge of Saudi Arabia. The past five years have had a huge impact on Frank Rijkaard.

Of course, it could be argued that after winning the UEFA Champions League, there really is only a downward curve one’s career can embark upon but the exploits of his successor at Barcelona, Josep Guardiola have perhaps put pay to such a point or at least shown that there is still a little space to move higher up in the elite of European football. What followed that night in Paris in 2006 was a time to forget for Rijkaard. He failed to win anything more for the Blaugrana and in May 2008, he stepped aside for Guardiola. Rijkaard can claim to have aided Barcelona’s rise to the pinnacle of football but since his time at the Camp Nou, things have conspired to go against him.

He would find himself mentioned regularly when vacancies at top clubs in Europe came about particularly Chelsea but instead he spent a year out of the managerial game until he took charge of Galatasaray. This was (and indeed still is) a strange time at the Istanbul club. Rijkaard took charge at a time where the Turkish giants were looking to rebuild and reach the heady heights of yesteryears. His first season in Turkey, while it didn’t bring success in the form of trophies, it showed encouraging signs as they improved two places on the season before, landing a 3rd place finish. However, the start of the 2010-11 season saw Galatasaray make a sluggish and laborious start, culminating in exiting Europe in the UEFA Europa League qualifying stage and sitting in 9th place in the Superliga. Cue the inevitable as Galatasaray dismissed the Dutchman in October.

Just like with his departure from Barcelona, Rijkaard would be linked to jobs, so much so Roy Hodgson would have a pop at him after Rijkaard was said to be interested in taking the reigns at Liverpool. The Galatasaray ordeal had knocked the perception of Rijkaard as a top coach. He had had quality players, perhaps one of the most individually talented squads in Turkey at the time but he had failed to get the best out of them. The links to jobs appeared to be more to pad out a potential list of targets as opposed to any genuine interest and likelihood. Earlier this summer, Rijkaard was tentatively yet again on some peoples list of possibilities for the jobs at Chelsea and Juventus but the perceived likelihood of him turning up for any of the teams was at a real low. What sums up such a situation perfectly is his name being briefly associated with the managerial vacancy at Aston Villa. Rijkaard was then quoted as publicly declaring an interest in the position at the club but Villa quickly dismissed the idea of appointing the Dutchman, citing the requirement of the candidate for the job needing English Premier League experience.

Now Rijkaard is expected and by the time you read this will have signed a contract to take charge of the Saudi Arabian national team, a team who including Rijkaard have now had seven different coaches since their last World Cup appearance in 2006. It will be a tall order for the Dutchman to reinvigorate a national team that has fallen from grace with quite a crash. You could argue that the finances will cushion the impact of Rijkaard falling away from the elite table of club football but the ambition shown does seem a shame when put into the context of Rijkaard’s career.

There is a danger for Rijkaard that at this rate he may well begin to draw comparisons with an esteemed teammate who he had both on the international stage and at Milan as a player, Ruud Gullit. Gullit has only had one spell at a club where he’s had any success (at Chelsea at the very beginning of his managerial career). Rijkaard didn’t fare too badly in his first mangerial position in charge of the Dutch national team admittedly so to label him as a one job wonder would be incorrect. There could well come a time where Rijkaard begins to trade off his name as opposed to his current skills. Of course, Saudi Arabia could lead to a new chapter full of promise and resurrection of an admittedly flagging coaching career. Though unlike Gullit, Rijkaard will always have his achievements in 2006 on his CV. The lustre of that will take some time to dim yet but the shine of the year of 2006 is obviously not enough for those of a European persuasion.

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