Frank Rijkaard, the Dutch coach of Catalan soccer outfit FC Barcelona (Barca), left the club after five years. He won two Spanish league titles as well as the Champions League, but he failed to get any silverware for the proud club in the past two years, which left Barca’s president Joan Laporta no other choice than to ax him. It was a long goodbye that had been on the horizon for a while. Not even titles may have changed things. Everyone knew that Rijkaard’s time in Barcelona was over.
He was sacked with style, though, and he himself showed remarkable consistency and humility throughout not only the overall very successful five years but also the past two months at the helm. It was “unbearable,” Rijkaard admitted after a humiliating 4-1 defeat against arch rival Real Madrid a few weeks ago, which marked the absolute low point of a tempestuous season. Yet the way he kept up his optimism and integrity in the face of the unfolding tragedy was impressive. Rijkaard always defended his players and never criticized them in public. He assumed full responsibility for disappointing performances, and never blamed the referee or the circumstances. Instead, he absorbed the anger and frustration of the fans with stoic calm and an unshakable work ethic that was always directed towards the next game.
In his last game for Barca, a romping 5-3 victory over Murcia, young striker Giovanni Dos Santos scored a hat-trick. Each time the teenager scored, each goal eclipsing the previous one for deftness and beauty, he turned towards Rijkaard. Highly unusual for him, the coach was on his feet, all smiles, lifting both hands in the air and cheering as if his team had just won the Champions League final. It was a remarkable moment, a moving outburst of joy in the overtime of his tenure. When nothing really matters anymore, everything matters – especially the small gestures that distinguish a man from a gentleman and a successful coach from a great one.
Rijkaard understood all too well that, in the end, dignity mattered more than titles and trophies at a club that is “more than a club.” That’s the hallmark of a great brand, a great vision: Never let the critics doubt it, and never let them destroy your spirit. “Keep yourself clean and bright. You are the windows through which you must view the world,” the ancient proverb goes. "Frank has been true to himself from beginning to end," Rijkaard’s assistant said in the last press conference. “It has been an honor to work for this club,” Frank Rijkaard added.