Frank Rijkaard is the latest legend to be inducted into the Football Oranje Hall of Fame.

  • By Andy Booth
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Born in Amsterdam on 30th September 1962, to a Dutch mother and Surinamese father, Franklin Edmundo Rijkaard would go on to become one of the most decorated Dutchmen of all time.


His talents were obvious from an early age, and at just 17 Rijkaard was handed his Ajax debut by coach Leo Beenhakker. Rijkaard repaid his managers faith scoring in a 4-2 win over Go Ahead Eagles. His versatility meant that Rijkaard featured heavily in his first professional season; he played 24 league games in a variety of positions. Adopting various defensive and midfield roles gave him valuable game time and crucially gave him the chance to learn the game holistically. His reading of the game, coming from a high level of footballing intelligence became a key attribute of Rijkaard’s.

Of course he was in an excellent environment for that. Rinus Michels and Johann Cruyff were pioneers of the ‘total’ style that came to define what Ajax symbolised as a club and their influence around the club was inescapable. But one’s own development ultimately comes down to the strength of the individual’s character. Rijkaard would go on to prove as a player and a manager that he was open to learn from the past whilst always remaining true to his own style:

“…you gain many impressions from the past [but] the decisions that a great coach made years ago will not necessarily work today.”

Following a 2nd place finish in his first professional season, 1980-81, Rijkaard’s form was rewarded with a call up to the national team for a friendly against Switzerland in September 1981. Ajax went on to win consecutive league titles in 1981-2 and 1982-83, however it was not plain sailing from there on in for Rijkaard. As dominant a force as Ajax were domestically, the successes of the Cruyff inspired Ajax side of the early 1970’s had placed a certain expectation in European competition. Early exits in the European Cup coupled with the Oranje’s failure to qualify for World Cup 1982 caused coach Aad de Mos to question whether the current breed of young, technically gifted youngsters really bore the recipe for success.

Famously, de Mos pinned a proportion of the blame on Rijkaard’s young shoulders:

“You won’t win the war with boys like Rijkaard”

Out of favour, Rijkaard was offered to mid-table Groningen but they were not interested. Rather than throw a tantrum, Rijkaard used this episode as added motivation. It helped him recognise that style meant nothing without substance, another philosophy he carried throughout his career.
After the European Cup first round defeat to Celtic in the autumn of 1982 which had triggered de Mos’s outburst, he paid more attention to improving the physical side of his game. His work rate in training and sheer determination to improve won back the respect of de Mos. He produced his best goal return, 9 in 23 games in the 1983-84 season and then featured in every game of the championship winning 1984-85 season, de Mos’s last at the club, winning the Dutch Golden Boot (award for the leagues best player).

Under de Mos’s successor, Johan Cruyff, the club played expansive, attacking football (scoring 120 league goals in the 1985-86 season) largely thanks to the prowess of John Bosman and Marco van Basten. However their 7 league losses handed the title to PSV who won the league by 8 points (it was only 2 points for a win until 1995-96). The following season was much the same, PSV won the league by 6 points; although Ajax’s form in Europe improved and Rijkaard got his hands on some more silverware as they lifted the 1987 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup.

Shortly into the new season a training ground bust-up between Cruyff and Rijkaard saw the latter storm out the club, vowing never to play for Cruyff again. Rijkaard was signed by Sporting Lisbon although the timing of the transfer meant he was ineligible to play for the Portugese giants so was loaned out to Zaragoza where he surprisingly struggled to cement his place in the team.

Euro 1988

Following his indifferent season in La Liga, the European Championships in the summer of 1988 presented Rijkaard with a chance to re-establish himself on the international stage. Partnered by Ronald Koeman in central defence, Rijkaard excelled and was one of 6 Dutchmen to make the overall team of the tournament. The tournament is widely remembered for van Basten’s brilliance; he scored 5 goals, 3 more than his closest rivals, including his unbelievable volley against the Soviet Union in the final. Indeed Van Basten was sensational throughout the tournament but just as much credit should be given to the rest of the team how knew their roles to a tee, as you would expect from a side coached by Rinus Michels. Victory was all the sweeter as the Netherlands came from behind to beat Germany in the semi-finals in Hamburg.

AC Milan

After the tournament Rijkaard secured a move to defending Serie A champions AC Milan, where he would join fellow Euro 1988 winners Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten. And it was under the guidance of Arrigo Sacchi where Rijkaard really began to develop into one of the games great defensive midfielders.

Playing in front of the Milanese back line of Baresi, Costacurta, Maldini, and Tassotti, Rijkaard formed a formidable midfield with one Carlo Ancelotti; with fellow countrymen Gullit and van Basten playing further up field. The side combined to devastating effect in Europe that season and lifted the European Cup in May 1989, as they hammered Real Madrid 6-1 on aggregate in the Semi-Finals (including a 5-0 win in Milan in which all three Dutchmen scored) before beating Steaua Bucharest 4-0 in the Final at Camp Nou.

A year later, Rijkaard would lift the European Cup again, this time in Vienna as his Milan side saw off Benfica 1-0, with Rijkaard grabbing the only goal of the game.

Domestically, Sacchi’s side were having less luck. Since Rijkaard’s signing in the summer of 1988, Milan had finished 3rd, 2nd and 2nd with 1990-91 being a rare trophy less season for the decorated Dutchman. Sacchi took the Italian national team job paving the way for Fabio Capello to take charge, in his first senior management role. In his first season in charge the Scudetto was returned to Milan as the Rossoneri went unbeaten to claim their first title in four years. The clubs three Dutchmen continued to flourish. Their flair and finesse lit up the division and complemented the defensive firmness of the clubs Italians.

Although van Basten was dominating the headlines for his goal scoring pedigree (he scored 38 goals in his last 46 league games for Milan), Rijkaard’s influence was equally as valued. In 1992, he won the Serie A Footballer of the Year and Best Foreign Player, highlighting the huge impact he had on the team. His last act at Milan was lifting his second Serie A title, after the 1992-93 season.

World Cup 1990

Sandwiched between the European Cup and Serie A successes came an uncharacteristically sour moment, somewhat ironically in the San Siro. In the Round of 16 match at World Cup 1990 old rivals West Germany and Netherlands were drawn together after the Dutch had struggled through their group with just three draws.

Following a clear foul on Rudi Voller, Rijkaard was rightly booked meaning he would miss the quarter-final should Netherlands progress. Immediately after, Rijkaard lost his cool and spat on the back of Voller’s head, which seemed to go unnoticed by the referee. Moments later another incident followed and Rijkaard and Voller were both sent off (the reasoning for the latter’s dismissal remains unclear). After the red cards had been brandished Rijkaard proceeded to spit at Voller again in what can only be described as one of the most deplorable acts in World Cup history.

At Euro 1992, the defending champions Netherlands were again hotly fancied. With only 8 teams participating in the tournament, Dutch victory over Germany in their final group match, in which Rijkaard scored the opener, set up a semi-final with Denmark. With four minutes from time Rijkaard cropped up again to take the tie into extra-time and penalties. Although the Dutch lost the shoot-out, Denmark’s victory over Germany in the final helped appease the disappointment.

Return to Ajax

In 1993 Rijkaard returned to his home town club, Ajax, who were under the management of Louis van Gaal. Van Gaal’s squad was a balanced combination of experience and youth. A new crop of youngsters from the famed Ajax academy began to cement their places in the Ajax first team whilst the 31-year-old Rijkaard was to partner Danny Blind, 32, in central defence. Ajax won the 1993-94 Eredivisie, scoring more goals and conceding fewer than any other side.

The following season, Rijkaard’s last as a player, they went one better; retaining the title whilst going the whole season unbeaten. This form transcended into Europe and an empathetic 5-2 semi-final victory over Bayern Munich set-up a final against his former club Milan. With 5 minutes to go Patrick Kluivert scored to give Ajax the victory and at 33, Rijkaard decided there could not be a better note to retire on.

Managerial career

Rijkaard’s managerial CV is rather more curious. His first job was with the Dutch national team following Guus Hiddink’s resignation immediately after World Cup 1998. He coached a strongly fancied squad during Euro 2000 and encouraged an attractive brand of attacking football. Victory in all three group games, including a 3-2 thriller against eventual winners France preceded a 6-1 quarter-final demolition of Yugoslavia. But as in the World Cup two years early, a semi-final shoot-out would be their undoing as the Oranje converted only one spot-kick in their loss to Dino Zoff’s Italy. Rijkaard resigned straight after the tournament.

After a year out he came back into management at Sparta Rotterdam, the oldest professional team in the Netherlands but guided them to their first ever relegation in his only season at the helm, 2001-02. Financial difficulties dogged the club and his relaxed attitude failed to inspire players who knew they were being released before the season had ended. He offered to take a 50% pay cut and stay on in the Eerste Divisie, but the club couldn’t even afford that.

rijk messBarcelona

Despite failing at Sparta, Barcelona came calling for the 2003-04 season with the club suffering a trophy draught, not having won anything since 1999. Rijkaard was somewhat surprisingly recommended for the role by Johan Cruyff, the perpetrator behind his 1987 exit from Ajax. After a slow start the fortunes of the club began to turn around. They finished the 2003-04 season as runners-up but then won the league the following two years with a rejuvenated squad which included many Rijkaard signings; such as Deco, Eto’o, and Ronaldinho. Coupled with a bright group of La Masia graduates – Iniesta, Messi, Xavi – the club’s mould began to change into the one that has been so successful over the past decade.
On May 17th 2006, Rijkaard became only the 5th coach to have won the Champions League ( or European Cup) as a player and a manager (Pep Guardiola has since become the 6th) – extending his personal haul of winner’s medals to four, as a player and manager. His Barcelona side came from behind to beat Arsenal 2-1 thanks to late goals from Eto’o and substitute Belletti.

These quotes from a Guardian interview with Rijkaard in 2006, perhaps most explicitly define his style as a manager:
“Someone said that my coaching is a combination of Milan’s defensive discipline and the Dutch propensity for attacking football and I think that is a fair descriptions. I try to merge the two schools of thought”.

“The goal is always to win. I am completely uninterested in playing beautiful football if the team doesn’t win. There have to be moments when you are just looking for a result. My players are fully aware of this.”

Rijkaard deserves no end of praise for striking the balance between attractive, fast, attacking football and the driven pragmatism that was combined to such a clinical effect in that season. Although unfortunately he would fail to repeat this achievement again.

The 2005-06 double winning campaign would be the last time he would lift silverware as a coach. With two minutes to go on the penultimate day of the 2006-07 season Barcelona seemed to have all but secured La Liga for a third straight year. But a last minute equaliser from Ruud van Nistelrooy in Madrid’s match with Zaragoza gave them a lifeline, before an even later equaliser from Raul Tamudo in the derby with Espanyol offered a rapid three point swing. Due their superior head to head record Real Madrid simply needed to beat mid-table Mallorca on the final day to secure the title. They won 3-1. An even more disappointing season followed, as Barcelona finished 3rd and some 18 points behind their rivals; spelling the end of Rijkaard’s mixed tenure.

Despite being heavily linked with the Chelsea job, Rijkaard’s next position was with Galatasary. The results there were rather more conclusively disappointing and a 3rd place finish was all he could muster before being sacked at the start of the 2010-11 season.

Equally disappointing was the spell that followed as head coach of the Saudi Arabia national team. Failure to neither progress beyond the group stages of the 2013 Gulf Cup of Nations nor qualify for World Cup 2014 meant two key objectives were missed and he was sacked.

It is a shame his managerial career fizzled out so quickly, a direct contrast to his playing career and his involvement in football seems all but over. In an interview with Voetbal International, Rijkaard stated he would not be returning to management.

Nevertheless Frank Rijkaard has enjoyed a wonderful career. His illustrious trophy haul, excellent understanding of the game, and gritty yet classy style of play makes him a worthy member of any hall of fame, not just a Dutch one.

Andy Booth (27 Posts)