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When the Pitbull came to Rijkaard’s rescue at Barcelona
- Updated: 22 July, 2012
While it may be a little premature to suggest Barcelona are currently a club in crisis, the Catalan giants are certainly facing what could prove a crossroads in their recent history.
Just days after losing their grip on the La Liga crown following three-years of unrivalled supremacy, Barca fans were hit with the news that the most successful Coach in club history would stand down at the end of the season.
The disappointment of Pep Guardiola’s departure may have been tempered somewhat by the appointment of his right-hand man Tito Vilanova as his successor, thus ensuring at least some degree of continuity, however there can be no hiding the fact that the club will head into a new season having experienced something of a disjointed campaign last time out.
The media hit hard of course, most tenaciously and as is expected, those based in the Spanish capital, however there is now a sense of anticipation building in the Catalan press as the club prepares for life without Guardiola.
Barcelona have found themselves in much worse predicaments in recent years however – most notably as they headed towards the winter break of 2003.
The unhappy reign of Joan Gaspart and the dour football of Louis van Gaal had been brought to a close during the summer as the much-maligned President and his Coach resigned, leaving a brash, young lawyer called Joan Laporta to beat favourite Lluis Bassat in the subsequent club election.
Laporta promptly placed Frank Rijkaard at the helm of the team and set about rejuvenating the club. The marquee signing of Brazilian playmaker Ronaldinho from PSG had whet the appetite of an expectant crowd and some of the deadwood had been shipped out – most notably the gifted but underachieving Argentine Juan Roman Riquelme.
By Christmas however, things had gone horribly wrong. Sitting in the bottom half of the table, Barca were looking over their shoulders nervously at the relegation zone with a league challenge gone and European qualification now looking highly unlikely.
The exciting new era had developed into a shambolic season of humiliation – witness the 5-1 thumping received at Malaga in early December, and soul-destruction – a home loss to eternal rivals Real Madrid for the first time in 20 years. Frank Rijkaard was a man living on borrowed time – until a transfer deal was brokered that changed the course of the season that is.
When Edgar David arrived at El Prat airport to start his five-month loan deal from Juventus, few could have foreseen the impact the man known as the ‘Pitbull’ would have as he brought his all-action, combative style into the lacklustre and often lazy side that had underperformed since August. The Dutch international was a revelation in the heart of the team and almost single-handedly turned the season around.
Barca went on an amazing run that saw them win ten out of eleven games to drag themselves up La Liga in search of a once-unlikely and astonishing title tilt. The side travelled to Madrid at the end of April and gained el clasico revenge as goals from Patrick Kluivert and Xavi moved them above Real Madrid in the table. Ultimately however, two defeats in the final three games left Rijkaard’s men just short of eventual champions Valencia, but in finishing second Barca has completed an amazing, Davids-inspired, resurrection.
The 31-year-old returned to Italy soon after the season finale as Roberto Mancini handed Davids a lucrative, three-year contract at Inter and Barcelona kept faith with Frank Rijkaard.
The following season, the Dutch Coach guided the club to their first league title in five years and then cemented his place in Blaugrana folklore in May 2006 as he guided the side to Uefa Champions League glory after an emotional night in Paris.
Edgar Davids has become the unheralded figure in the piece. Ronaldinho, Xavi and Lionel Messi may be the names the record books remember, however the Dutchman’s contribution to that amazing season in 2003/04 set the foundation for Futbol Club Barcelona and, as they say, the rest is history.Follow @icentrocampista