Franklin Edmundo Rijkaard, to give him his full name, was that rare breed of player who could slot seamlessly into more than one position, proving as effective going forward as he was in snuffing out opposing attacks.
An imposing defensive midfielder with an eye for a cultured pass, Rijkaard graduated from Ajax’s famed school to become a trusted lieutenant in Arrigo Sacchi’s fabled AC Milan team and Rinus Michels’ Netherlands side.
Having successfully made the transition to coaching, he still harbours hopes of getting his hands on the FIFA World Cup™ Trophy - the one prize to evade his grasp during his distinguished career.
From Amsterdam streets to Milanese heights
Rijkaard was born in Amsterdam on 30 September 1962, just 29 days after a certain Ruud Gullit, who lived a few blocks away in the suburb of Jordaan. As fate would have it, the paths of the two near-neighbours would converge in the years that followed, Rijkaard and Gullit combining to great effect for club and country.
Both born to Surinamese fathers – Rijkaard’s having moved to the Netherlands in the 1950s – the two would often square off in improvised football matches on the streets of the Dutch capital, and also ran out together for local club DWS.
Impressed by his imposing build and wholehearted commitment, then Ajax coach Leo Beenhakker wasted little time in signing Rijkaard, handing the 17-year-old a first-team debut in a 4-2 league defeat of Go Ahead Eagles in 1980.
Consolidating his place in the heart of the defence, Rijkaard would remain there when Beenhakker was succeeded by Kurt Linder, Aad de Mos and then Johan Cruyff. His composure and commanding presence was a major contributing factor in the seven trophies the club won between 1980 and '87, a haul that included three league titles and a UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup.
Forthright in his opinions, the young Rijkaard clashed on several occasions with the equally opinionated Cruyff. Deciding to leave Ajax one year after Cruyff’s arrival, Rijkaard moved to Sporting and then Real Zaragoza before becoming reunited with Gullit at AC Milan, who had also acquired the services of another prodigiously gifted Dutchman in Marco van Basten.
Had Milan president Silvio Berlusconi had his way, Argentinian attacking midfielder Claudio Borghi would have arrived at the San Siro instead of Rijkaard. Coach Sacchi held firm, however, and decided to align the cultured new arrival with Gullit, Carlo Ancelotti and Demetrio Albertini in midfield. It proved a masterstroke.
Winning over Berlusconi and the fans with his power, technique, tactical acumen and elegance on the ball, the 6ft 3ins Rijkaard quickly became known as 'The Hurricane', adding the defensive steel so commonly associated with the Italian game to his characteristically Dutch ball skills.
His willingness to push forward in open play and at set-pieces made him a threat to any defence, as he showed in scoring the goal that won Milan the 1990 European Cup final against Benfica.
Such was their success with I Rossoneri that the Dutch triumvirate would occupy the first three places in the 1988 Ballon d’Or, which was won by Van Basten. That feat was almost repeated the following year, with Milan skipper Franco Baresi replacing Gullit in second and Rijkaard taking third again.
The 1-0 defeat by Marseille in the 1993 UEFA Champions League final marked the end of an era for Milan. Gullit promptly departed for Sampdoria, Van Basten would never play again, retiring two years later after failing to overcome persistent injury problems, while Rijkaard himself left for Louis van Gaal’s Ajax.
Occupying a central-defensive role with the Dutch giants, he helped them to the 1995 Champions League crown, a triumph secured by a Patrick Kluivert goal in the final against Milan and which brought the curtain down on Rijkaard’s staggeringly successful club career.
Oranje delight in '88
Less success would come his way in a 13-year international career, which began on 1 September 1981 when he came on for Gullit in a friendly against Switzerland in Rotterdam. Forming a formidable defensive partnership with Ronald Koeman, he would nevertheless taste glory at UEFA EURO 1988, when the Netherlands won their only title to date by beating Soviet Union in the final.
In winning 73 caps for his country, Rijkaard scored ten goals, appeared in two World Cups (Italy 1990 and USA 1994) and one other EURO competition (Sweden 1992). In each of those three tournaments, the Dutch were knocked out by the eventual champions, with the 3-2 quarter-final loss to Brazil at USA 1994 being Rijkaard’s last appearance for the Oranje.
Did You Know?
During his playing days, Rijkaard was known in some circles as 'Mr Versatile' and 'The Comet' because of his ability to play in every position and get all over the pitch.
In 1987, following an argument with Johan Cruyff, his then coach at Ajax, Rijkaard joined Sporting. Ineligible to play for the Portuguese side, however, he was loaned out to Real Zaragoza, where he made only 11 appearances before moving on to AC Milan.
“If I could change anything about the modern game, it would be the offside rule,” the forthright Rijkaard once said. “If you want to play attacking football, I do not see how someone can stay behind your back line [but be deemed not to be interfering with play] and then gain an advantage. It really is ridiculous.”
Rijkaard is one of only six people to have won the European Cup/UEFA Champions League both as a player and coach. The others to have achieved the feat are Miguel Munoz, Giovanni Trapattoni, Johan Cruyff, Carlo Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola, his successor in the Barcelona hot-seat.
Rijkaard could score as well as defend, netting 93 times in 444 club appearances and also hitting ten goals for the Netherlands.