Should Rijkaard have his parachute ready?
It was just like old times for me covering Frank Rijkaard’s press conferences either side of Barcelona’s Champions League win over Schalke, as another Dutch coach got the Louis van Gaal treatment from the media.
I was based in Barcelona when Van Gaal finally called it quits at the end of his first spell at the club and listening to the Catalan press and radio hounding out the former Ajax man was at times almost painful.
Barcelona’s 3-2 defeat by Real Betis at the weekend led to headlines calling the Schalke game an “ultimatum”, while Rijkaard was asked whether a jokey conversation, caught on camera, about him carrying a parachute as hand luggage for the flight had any deep significance.
The difference is that not only does Rijkaard have more credit built up than Van Gaal did — thanks to the Champions League win in 2006 — but that the younger man refuses to rise to the bait. Van Gaal could never resist getting into arguments with journalists, while Rijkaard simply smiles, leans back and mumbles a few well-worn phrases about the team having to work harder.
So what to make of the Schalke game, which was won 1-0 thanks to a goal from the ludicrously talented 17-year-old Bojan Krkic?
If Barcelona go on to win the tie and reach the semi-finals, as they surely now should, it will be remembered as a textbook display in a European away game. That’s not the real story.
This was a case of Barcelona showing the same failings as they had against Betis, when they let slip a two-goal lead, but getting away with it.
Barcelona were so superior to Schalke in the first half that it was quite ridiculous. Xavi and Iniesta in midfield strolled around the Arena AufSchalke as if they owned the place, creating what seemed to be an endless series of passes that led to the early goal for Bojan and should have brought them many more.
In the second half Barcelona just stopped playing, and failed to create a single scoring chance. Schalke showed how you beat them by not giving them anything like the time on the ball they had in the first half, pouring players down the wings and sending high balls into the middle. A better team would have had them.
It’s worth remembering that Deco, Ronaldinho and Messi all missed the game through injury, while Eto’o looked barely fit. Still, it must be frustrating to Barcelona fans to see a team with such talented players play themselves into trouble again and again.
What’s the next step? From talking to my colleagues from Barcelona it looks more and more like a change of coach at the end of the season, even if Rijkaard doesn’t quite have his parachute packed yet.
Kevin Fylan, Gelsenkirchen