Whatever you say about Rafa Benitez’s tenure as Liverpool manager, one thing not many Reds fans would dispute was that he was able to organise a team. A testament to this was his fantastic record in European competitions during his time at Anfield with two Champions League finals. Tactical discipline and well organised defences helped his sides go a long way in European competitions. Such a style didn’t always translate to the Premier League where strength, direct and physical style play is required to gain victories. Rafa never adjusted his style completely to the English league and perhaps he didn’t need to going by the near miss of 2008/09 season, but one thing that was for certain, that although his Liverpool team were effective and scored goals, no one could describe the Reds as an attractive team to watch. Of course beauty is the eye of the beholder and some would say that Liverpool’s brand of football was effective, hard-working and disciplined, and therefore was enjoyable to watch. For me though, if you asked any football supporter if they would prefer their team to play like Barcelona, the answer would be an unequivocal “Yes”.
Attacking, attractive football has been Barcelona’s philosophy for many years, epitomised by Johan Cruyff’s team of the early nineties. Playing a 4-3-3 formation, Cruyff took his brand of Dutch “total football” and brought it to the Catalan club, becoming Barca’s most successful coach to date bringing players such as Pep Guardiola, Romario, Michael Laudrup, Hristo Stoichkov, Gheorghe Hagi and Ronald Koeman to the club. 11 trophies in a eight year spell, he was afforded hero status in the city and has recently became life-long honorary president of the club. Despite no longer being coach though, he still has great influence in first team affairs and when young new president Joan Laporta was voted in, he turned to Cruyff for advice on who to appoint as the club’s new manager. Barca was in crisis when he took over, mounting debts and playing in the shadow of the Galacticos era at Real Madrid, Laporta knew a radical approach was needed. Cruyff recommended Frank Rijkaard for the role.
At the time it was a massive gamble for both Cruyff and Laporta. Rijkaard had been a fantastic player but his managerial record was poor to say the least. His first appointment was with the Dutch national team but despite Euro 2000 being held in their own country, Rijkaard could only guide an unconvincing Holland side to the semi-finals. It was still however his first appointment and it was thought he would become a better manager through experience. His second job though was nothing short of a disaster as he relegated Sparta Rotterdam from the Eredivisie in his only season in charge. It was in this context that Rijkaard was appointed manager of Barca.
The philosophy of the club, guidance from Cruyff, and no doubt the standard of players at his disposal helped Rijkaard settle into the role. Big money transfers of Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o, Ludovic Giuly and Deco, combined with Xavi, Carles Puyol, and the emerging talents of Andres Iniesta and one Lionel Messi, helped Rijkaard build the team of stars. They were still a bunch of individuals though, and Rijkaard turned this talented group into a fantastic attacking force, with a passing style reminiscent of the Cruyff Barca teams of old. The formation allowed the front three to combine and interchange relatively freely while combining well with the 3 midfielders to create goal scoring opportunities. The back four tended to hold quite a high line so as to press high up the pitch to regain the ball and dominate the other team in terms of possession. It is a philosophy continued on by Rijkaard’s successor Pep Guardiola who was recommended to Laporta by Cruyff again, because of Guardiola’s time working under the Dutch master in the early nineties.
So would Rijkaard fit Liverpool? The Liverpool board have an interesting decision to make. Liverpool don’t have a philosophy identified with a particular a style of play, unlike Barca. Our two previous managers, Benitez and Houllier emphasised tactical discipline, good organisation above free expressive attacking football and was particularly effective in cup competitions. Hodgson would be logical next step to continue this tradition going but should it be the direction the Reds should go? I believe the clamour for Kenny Dalglish isn’t because of any form of nostalgia; it is the desire for both the return of a loyal ex manager in difficult times and for a return to the attacking style of football that symbolised Liverpool’s successful years. Dalglish’s teams of the late 80s played the best football the club had ever seen, and no doubt many would love this to return. Rijkaard would certainly also realise this desire for attack minded play.
There are questions though as to whether Rijkaard could replicate his time at Barcelona. There will be no money to spend on buying players such as Ronaldinho, Deco and Eto’o and he will have to use the players he has got, or bring in those of a similar quality. His time at Galatasaray has not been too convincing either; his first season saw his Turkish team finish third, 11 points behind league winners Bursaspor, and losing eight times in 34 games. While Purslow and co seem to ignore the Dalglish option, they have approached Galatasaray twice about talking to Rijkaard according to Sky Sports; perhaps it could be our second best choice?
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