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End of era as Rijkaard bids farewell to Barcelona (SN)

SoccerNews in La Liga 18 May 2008

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Frank Rijkaard saw the curtain come down on his five-year spell as Barcelona coach on Saturday with his final match one to remember as Giovani dos Santos bagged a hat-trick in a 5-3 win over relegated Real Murcia.

Rijkaard, 45, will go down in Barcelona folklore after becoming only the second coach to guide the club to Champions League glory matching the 1992 European Cup success of the great Johan Cruyff team.

“It has been a great honour for me,” Rijkaard said. “I prefer to focus on the lovely things I have experienced, the people I have worked with, the friendship with people I will carry with me in my heart forever.

“I take responsibility for what has happened. We set goals but unfortunately we could not reach them.

“There has been a lot of talk about the president (Joan Laporta) but he can't score the goals on the pitch.”

Rijkaard arrived at Barca in 2003 after managerial spells with Sparta Rotterdam and the Dutch national team and he found a Barca side in transition.

His inspirational signings of Deco, Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto'o pushed the club forward and league titles in 2005 and 2006 were capped by the 2-1 Champions League victory over Arsenal in the same year.

After setting such high standards Rijkaard's Barca then seemed to lose their way and in 2007 they gifted the title to Real after leading for most of the season.

It was the start of a steep decline and Barca offered little resistance to Real in this season's title race with off-the-field problems – mainly surrounding Brazilian Ronaldinho – not helping.

Two years without silverware proved too much as Barca axed the former AC Milan midfielder Rijkaard with reserve team coach Pep Guardiola confirmed as his successor for next season.

“What he has done makes you want to take your hat off to him. It's extraordinary. He is an example to all of us,” Guardiola said.

The 37-year-old Guardiola is a former Barca captain making over 250 appearances for the club between 1990 and 2001 winning six league titles and the 1992 European Cup in the process.

He has a hard act to follow with Rijkaard held in high regard by some of the players he has nurtured such as brilliant Argentine Lionel Messi.

“I believe that he (Rijkaard) has done some great things for this club,” Messi said

“I don't think he should be blamed for anything which has gone wrong and I think the fans know this and that's why they showed him their appreciation.

“I am grateful to him for what he has done and I would like to thank him.”

Rijkaard persuaded Deco to opt for Barca ahead of Chelsea in the summer of 2004 and the Portuguese international playmaker saluted his mentor.

“Apart from being a great coach he is a great person,” Deco said.

The Barca fans jeered Rijkaard and waved their handkerchieves this season to express their dissatisfaction with the team's displays but they showed their appreciation for his achievements and the freeflowing attacking football that accompanied them in his final home match last weekend.

Unfortunately for Rijkaard the match ended in a disappointing 3-2 defeat to Real Mallorca but fans at Camp Nou produced banners of 'Rijkaard thanks for everything' and cheered him when he gave instructions on the touchline.

Rijkaard got the perfect send off against Murcia and leaves with his head held high although it is unclear whether he will dive straight back into management or take a time-out.

For Barcelona it is a new beginning under Guardiola and Rijkaard will not be the only departure as Ronaldinho, Deco, Eto'o, Rafael Marquez and Thierry Henry could follow him out of the Camp Nou door.

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