Friday, November 21, 2008

In defence of Rijkaard - Allout

This autumn Frank Rijkaard’s stock has fallen more spectacularly than some Icelandic banks’. As Barcelona have smashed six past Atletico Madrid and Valladolid alike, commentators have been quick to praise new manager Josep Guardiola, and contrast his hands-on approach to Rijkaard’s laissez faire style. “It’s because they have a coach now” said Sid Lowe explaining Barca’s recent form on Football Weekly in between his editor’s ropey puns (after 19:30 here).

It is true that last season was shambolic for Barcelona with Ronaldinho disinterested, Messi often injured, Henry uninspired, and the team a disappointing third in La Liga. Their Dutch manager seemed powerless to change the club’s direction. That it was right to let him go is not in question; his legacy and coaching ability are.

Rijkaard struggled during his first months at the club in 2003 and, with Barcelona hovering perilously close to the relegation zone, he was close to being sacked. Barca turned it around spectacularly, though, eventually finishing second that season. This form continued into the next season with the Catalans winning La Liga, and in the 2005-06 season they achieved immortality, winning the Treble of the Champions League (for only the second time in their history), La Liga and Copa del Rey.

With a front four of Eto’o, Ronaldinho, Deco and Messi (or Giuly) Barcelona had an attack that could tear opponents to shreds. It showcased an awesome combination of speed, strength, technique and vision. In the Treble winning season they scored 80 goals, many of them of outstanding quality, in a 38 match campaign.

There was graft allied to this style though. Carlos Puyol may look like the Catalan Worzel Gummidge, and there is definitely something agricultural about his style of play, but his courage and defensive abilities are beyond debate. Together with the Brazilian holding midfielder Edmilson, he provided the graft and heart to accompany the front four’s terrific ability.

With this combination Barca won big matches in style. The peak of their 2005-06 domestic campaign was the 3-0 win at the Bernabeu over arch-rivals Real Madrid with Ronaldinho settling proceedings with a classic goal. And they did this abroad as well, winning a crucial Champions League match 2-1 at Stamford Bridge, showing both substance and style by playing attractive football.

In London two of England’s best teams couldn’t match Barcelona during this time. Jose Mournho’s Chelsea won trophies but few friends with their plodding style; Arsenal had the purists purring but left Highbury’s silver polishers underemployed. Barca, on the other hand, produced the ultimate combination of the beautiful and the effective, winning major trophies but in a style that inspired and entertained in equal measure. It was as close to footballing perfection as I have seen.

So, whilst congratulating Guardiola on Barca’s current form and accepting that Rijkaard had to go, let’s remember the years in the middle of this decade where Rijkaard’s management allowed his team to flourish and be true to that otherwise so demanding of mottos: “More than a club”.


andrewm said...

Allout, what do you make of the suggestion that the real work at Barcelona was done by Ten Caate, his original assistant, and that they fell apart as soon as he left?

I've always felt Puyol is at the wrong club, in terms of the way they play. When they face a good attacking side in Europe, more often than not they're exposed, and he's made to look terribly pedestrian.

Allout said...

Re Puyol

It's true that he's not the quickest and I see the point your making that Barcelona's attacking style can leave him exposed.

At the same time, Barcelona is one of the most political clubs around. I wanted to go into this but didn't have space in 500 words but it is not enough there just to win; not enough even to win with flair; you need to win with flair and some prominent Catalans. To this end Puyol is a figurehead of the club.

As for Ten Caate I have heard that suggestion before. It's difficult to say without being on the training ground.

What we do know is that Eto'o has been seriously injured (coming back he understandably took some time to regain form), Messi has had niggling problems and Ronaldinho has lost focus. Also, the team as a whole was probably reaching the end of it's shelf life in terms of motivation and new faces being required.

There is a debate to be had about Rijkaard's ability as a coach. Again, I didn't have space to go into it but his overall record is mixed.

andrewm said...

I take your point about Puyol - I'm talking strictly about their style of play. At times they make him look far worse than he probably is.

bluedaddy said...

Is this plodding Chelsea side the same one that knocked out Barca 5-4 on aggregate the previous season, and then knocked out Bayern Munich 6-5 on aggregate? I seem to recall those ties did anything but plod.

I agree that in Mourinho's last 18 months at Chelsea we(he) became overly defensive, and, at times, plodded. But Chelsea were electric in his first two seasons, with Duff and Robben on the wings, while we also reminded English clubs of the art of defending.

MotM said...

You build a good case Allout, but what about as Puyol?

Allout said...


I thought that sentence might elicit a response from you!

Participating in a couple of reasonably high scoring ties doesn't automatically mean that a team is attacking because;
1) the law of averages states that there will be some high scoring matches over the course of an entire season;
2) a high scoring match in itself does not mean much - after all a team may have three corners and score headed goals from all three.

I certainly haven't heard any neutrals describing Mourinho's Chelsea as an attractive side.

That said, I don't think they were much more defensive than many other top European sides at the time which is what made Barcelona such a breath of fresh air. I named Chelsea because it was for an English paper and they were the EPL champions. I could have named other sides instead - for example Inter.

ElSell said...

Nice piece, I think Rijkaard got to much praise when things were going well and too much abuse for them going badly.
He should however have been stronger with the lazy gits!
Did he buy Henry or was he bought?
Didnt really fit the system!?

I do think ten Cate ran the show though.

As for Puyol, If Puyol was a poker player he would be calling 2 all in raises by tight players with 44 for all he owned when he didnt have to!

I always look at "home grown" hero's at big clubs like this:
"Would they buy him from another club for a big transfer fee if he wasnt a local hero?"
Puyol at Barca? NO!

offsideintahiti said...


good piece and good questions. Questions that might begin to be answered when Rijkaard takes on a new job. I fully expected him to turn up at Chelsea, by the way. He did have the football brains when he was orchestrating play from midfield, so naturally you would think... but it doesn't always work that way.

I have to say Puyol surprised and impressed me this summer at the Euro. I thought he and Marchena were Spain's weak link and would be exposed at some stage, because you can't win a Euro or World Cup without a solid central defence. Turned out they were solid enough and hardly put a foot wrong. Maybe his looks work against him.

bleudaddy said...

Got to agree with the ukelele man, Puyol and Marchena were near faultless in the summer, aided by the man of the tournament Senna.

Allout, my problem is I like watching defenders as much, if not more, than attackers. For me Terry and Carvalho together compare to some of the great combinations. Some clever arses laid Chelsea's incredible defensive record at Makelele's feet. Goals conceded post-Makelele in the Prem after a third of the season - 4!

I do love to watch stylists like Barca and Arsenal - but I also think to play patterns without penetrating is as much anti-football as the shit-on-a-stick games that haunt my team.

Maradona's second goal vs England is worthy of the praise it receives, but when I watch it I get incensed by the mere presence of Terry Fenwick.

I really am a hopeless case.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comments everyone.

Re Rijkaard - I think anyone who is the manager at a club which plays both attractive and successful football deserves heavy praise. Of course we can argue how much of the success was down to him and how much was down to circumstances. I agree that he was too soft on some players towards the end although with certain players it's difficult to know whether they need an arm around their shoulders or a kick up the arse.

Re Puyol - I agree that he was excellent in Euro 2008 and I too was a little sceptical beforehand. He looks bad when he is exposed to one on ones - I think the sheer size of the pitch at the Nou Camp means that it is more likely to happen there and also Spain played in a slightly more controlled manner than Barca have, thus giving him more protection.

Whether he would have been brought to the club from the outside we can't say but as I hinted at above I don't think that you can compare Barca to other big clubs here.

At most big clubs home grown heroes are a bonus, at Barca they are a pre-requisite. The heavy Catalan emphasis goes back to Franco's time and one of the reasons that Barca are the institution they are is that they are unlikely ever to be bought by an American who funds the purchase by passing the debt onto the club or a Russian oligarch looking for his latest toy (sorry for picking on Chelsea again BD).


gg said...

I get your gist - you wouldn't expect such a good-looking bloke to be a central defender, would you?

offsideintahiti said...

Exactly. Same with Rio Ferdinand.

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