Frank Rijkaard: A new era for Black coaches?

By Andrew Dixon, III
Updated: May 22, 2005

MIAMI, FLA.—From time to time in the United States , the issue of the number of Black coaches, or lack thereof, is discussed by TV pundits, newspaper columnists and other media forums. In sports such as basketball, football, & baseball that have seen significant on field participation by Black athletes in both the collegiate and professional ranks, those same Black athletes are later unable to convince General Managers and Athletic Directors that they can lead teams to success.

International soccer appears to be no different. Despite the great contributions of Black players throughout Europe and S. America, you will find very few in charge of big name clubs or countries. The opportunity to manage in the top leagues has been extended to precious few Blacks and 2nd chances are rare, while White coaches are recycled again and again (Hoddle, Redknapp, Troussier, Raneiri etc.) Even in Africa, you will find very few Black coaches leading National teams down the stretch run of World Cup qualifying.

So it is time to pay tribute to Frank Rijkaard and renew the hope that the former Dutch International who has led FC Barcelona to its first title in 6 years will usher in a new era for Black coaches.

It’s been said that great players don’t often make great coaches and there is some truth to that. Rijakaard could easily have fallen into this formula because no one would doubt his greatness as a player. Starting and finishing at Ajax of Amerstam and becoming a legend alongside fellow Dutch players Marco van Baten and Ruud Guillet at AC Milan in Italy, Rijkaard established himself as one of the all time greats, exuding confidence in whatever different position on the field he played. He won 2 Italian domestic titles, 4 Dutch titles and 3 Champions League medals, the last with Ajax in his final season. With Holland he was equally effective, winning Euro 88, appearing in the 1990 and 94 World Cups and scoring 10 times for his country.

After serving as an assistant coach for the Dutch National side at the 1998 World Cup, he was named Head Coach for Holland as the team aimed to win the Euro2000 tournament to be co-hosted with Belgium. Many were surprised at this selection due to Rijakaard’s lack of experience and an 11 game winless streak to begin his coaching career didn’t help. But those doubts disappeared as he led Holland to the semifinals and was done in by 3 missed penalties. Though the result was not his fault, he dutifully fell on his sword and resigned, despite pleas for him stay.

Tanara McLean

Rijkaard: Cool, Calm, Collected (Mexsport)

In 2001 he took over the reigns at Sparta Rotterdam but the season ended poorly with the team’s relegation to the 2nd division and Rijkaard’s relegation

Normally this would have been the end. Black coaches don’t normally get 2nd chances. Jean Tigana who brought Fulham to the Premiereship watches more matches than I do these days. John Barnes had one spell with Scottish club Celtic and when he failed to live up to expectations was never given another chance to manage. Ian Wright, the former Arsenal player has said that he won’t even bother getting into coaching as Blacks are not given the same opportunities to establish themselves and succeed as White coaches. Latin America is not immune to this, either. Though Francisco Maturana has led both Colombia and Peru’s National sides one would be hard pressed to name any other Black coaches in a region which contains large populations of Blacks such as Costa Rica, Brazil & Colombia.

Yet new Barcelona president Joan Laporte decided that Rijkaard would be the man to help restore the club to excellence. Laporte significantly stood by him when the team started off poorly culminating in a sound whipping by bitter rivals Real Madrid that had the Barcelona press calling for the new coach’s head. Yet the cool confidence that Rijkaard brought to the field as a player starting making its way through the team and by season’s end Barcelona had not only finished 2nd in the league but ahead of Real Madrid.

Rijkard was then able to sign players such as Samuel Eto’o and Deco to partner Ronalinho & Xavi in the attack while standing firmly behind his younger players. The result was a virtual start to finish run at the top of the Spanish League with classy displays and a title that had eluded 4 previous coaches. Skeptics may point to the aforementioned additions as the primary reason for his success but one need only look at the collection of talent at Real Madrid to realize that great players do not necessarily equal trophies. Rather, Rijkaard’s tactics, team selections and confidence in his squad were also key in helping Barcelona return to the top of Spanish football.

Consistency becomes the next hurdle that Rijkaard and FC Barcelona must overcome, but should they remain one of Europe’s elite clubs, Rijkaard will have demonstrated that Black coaches can succeed in the highest levels of the sport. This will make it possible for some of the players coming approaching the end of the careers like Lillian Thuram and Paul Ince to seriously consider managerial careers-and for clubs to seriously consider them.

We salute FC Barcelona’s Frank Rijkaard and hope that his success opens the door for other Black managers to follow in his footsteps.

Enjoy the beautiful game