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Frank Rijkaard – Barcelona’s Unsung Hero


Written by Aadharsh Shrimanikandan

“Why do we fall, sir? So that we can learn to pick up?”.Let me take you back to a beautiful part of Spain-Catalonia. The Catalans were always fond of their football and Futbol Club Barcelona is of prime importance to them as they consider it a sizeable medium to protest against Catalan suppression. The club has had an array of prominent footballing figures in the past like the Hungarian Kubala, Johan Cruyff, Pep Guardiola, Hristo Stoichkov, Lionel Messi and many more. However, we tend to miss out one name in discussions, the man whose Barcelona team acted as a bridge between Cryuff’s dream team and Guardiola’s sextuple champions.

Read More | The Road Forks Here – Barcelona’s Catalan Conundrum |

Frank Rijkaard, ladies, and gentleman.

Back in 2002-03 under Louis Van Gaal, Barcelona finished 6th in the league with 56 points. A change in the board and managerial personnel was required. A young Joan Laporta, brimming with confidence replaced the departing Joan Gaspart with Rijkaard taking charge as the club’s coach. FIFA World Player of the year Ronaldinho Gaucho was signed to lead the team’s attack.

During his tenure as manager, Barcelona won back to back league titles in 2004-05 and 2005-06 campaigns and the Champions League for the second time in their history in the latter season. Now let’s have a look at the tactics that made his side successful back then.

Formation Used in possession: 4-3-3

rijkaard formation attack

The coach always trained his players to press high up the pitch and work hard for their goals, similar to how Cruyff trained his dream team during the 90s. The forward trident, comprising of Messi, Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto’o pressed the opponent’s defenders whenever they didn’t have possession of the ball. Deco and Xavi pulled the strings from midfield, while Edmilson was deployed as an anchor in front of the Blaugrana defence. The team generally played a high defensive line with Edmilson slotting in as the 3rd CB.

Formation played when Barca didn’t have the ball: 4-1-2-1-2

rijkaard formation defence

When Barca did not have possession of the ball, Ronaldinho and Eto’o stayed up front, waiting for the counter to be played on with Messi wreaking havoc in a free role as the creator. On the left side, either of Xavi or Van Bommel used to help Van Bronckhorst defend.

How did they attack?

Rijkaard’s Barcelona side attacked by building up patiently from the back, playing short passes. Edmilson helped the centre-backs to start play.

When the ball was played to the left or right, Xavi would primarily drop deep to link play up.

Read More | Xavi – What Made The Barca Metronome So Unique? |


Every time Messi occupied right-hand side, Ronaldinho used to drop in central areas to help the midfielders and vice versa and when the diminutive Argentine had the ball in central positions. He usually played it out wide to Ronaldinho who was arguably one of the best dribblers, cutting from the left side into scoring positions centrally. Since these 2 attackers played a lot more centrally, the full-backs advanced into crossing positions with Eto’o and Deco in the box waiting to convert the deliveries.

Rijkaard’s philosophy was further refined by Guardiola in the 2008-09 season with rigorous attention to detail towards ball possession, retention and positional freedom. Under the current Manchester City manager’s stewardship, Barcelona won the first treble in their history.

rijkaard barca champions league

The 2004-05 and 2005-06 campaigns will go down as two of the most important season’s in Barcelona’s history for the stability that it gave post the  Van Gaal era.

Frank Rijkaard, the embodiment of Barcelona’s “mes que un club” ethos will forever be enshrined as an indispensable component of the club’s history.

Barcelona Archive

Feature Image via Daily Mail Online


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