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Signing Coup in Istanbul: Frank Rijkaard to Galatasaray



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The news of Frank Rijkaard’s appointment as the new manager of Galatasaray has certainly made head waves across Turkiye. In the wake of Galatasaray’s mediocre season the news of Rijkaard’s signing is a coup in Turkiye and has almost eclipsed the celebrations by Istanbul rivals Besiktas of their well deserved league-cup double this season.

Only weeks earlier the rumors that persisted amongst Galatasaray fans was that former Real Madrid coach Bernd Schuster was in the running to replace then current manager Bulent Korkmaz. Along with those rumors was the talk of a certain other Dutchman, Ruud van Nistelrooij, set to leave Real Madrid and sign for Galatasaray. Whether the Dutchman will be even more motivated to join his countryman at Ali Sami Yen remains to be seen.

Not to say the least, this past campaign has been a huge disappointment for “cimbom” fans as the club not only failed to defend its 2007-2008 league title, but finished fifth in the league and narrowly squeeked into next season’s Europa League via the second qualifying round. Certainly not the kind of pedigree for a Champions’ League winning manager.  

Considering that only one year ago Rijkaard was managing FC Barcelona and had guided los blaugranas to the Champions’ League in 2006, one might be inclined to think “how the mighty have fallen.” Rijkaard was recently linked to his old club, AC Milan, and the job vacated by a departing Carlo Ancellotti. So for some, the progression from FC Barcelona, to potentially AC Milan and now to Galatasaray is seen more as regression.

For other more optimistic fans who feel the signing of Rijkaard will ensure Galatasaray’s return to Europe’s biggest stage, they need only look to their bitter rivals Fenerbahce and their managerial fiasco this season. Having finished one position higher than Galatasaray (on goal difference) and disappointing in the Turkish Cup final, the sentiments that these Galatasaray fans feel now about Rijkaard’s signing were certainly shared by Fener fans a little less than a year ago when Fenerbahce signed Spain’s Euro 2008 championship manager Luis Aragones.

Expectations were high and were further inflated when Spanish international (and understudy to Fernando Torres) Daniel Guiza decided to join his former international manager to Istanbul. Yet after one dismal season, Aragones’ high profile was ditched for a more pragmatic return to success by the appointment of a former  manager who led the club to two consecutive league titles in 2004 and 2005, Christoph Daum.

Frank Rijkaard should realize that his CV alone will not guarantee success for Galatasaray. He will certainly have to come to terms with the fact that he is not managing a squad consisting of players like Ronaldinho, Deco, Samuel Eto’o and the crew at FC Barcelona. Yet his current squad isn’t without its riches in talent such as Arda Turan, Cassio Lincoln, Harry Kewell, Milan Baros, and some relatively unknown talent outside of Turkiye, namely Turkish internationals Mehmet Topal and Hakan Balta.

Furthermore, Rijkaard’s reputation and his ability to manage players of varying temperaments could well attract name players that would normally not be enticed to play in the Turkcell Superlig. Having experienced the pressure cooker jobs of managing Holland in Euro 2000 and the daily scrutiny of the Catalan media in Barcelona, the similar media coverage of his every move in Istanbul by the Turkish daily newspapers and TV crews won’t phase Frank Rijkaard.

The Dutchman has his work cut out for him as he will have to address the leaky Galatasaray defense that on numerous occasions this past season simply went AWOL during matches. Galatasaray’s board or directors should also give Rijkaard a fair chance to rebuild this season and remember that not even at Barcelona did he win the league title in his first season.

Yet should Rijkaard and his new assistant, Johan Neeskens, implement his style of attacking football in Galatasaray, it sure will be entertaininig to watch the aforementioned talent put on display this philosophy of football in both the league and in the Europa League. And should Galatasaray’s squad adapt to this system, Frank Rijkaard will be able to enjoy the fruits of his labor with such vociferous support from the fans in the terraces of Ali Sami Yen that will make the cules at the Camp Nou seem like parishioners in a church.

From a career point of view, perhaps coming to Galatasaray is a clever move on Rijkaard’s part. While the UEFA Cup win in 2000 bolstered Galatasaray’s European pedigree, there is no real expectation amongst the directors, staff and the fans of the club that this European title should be won on a regular basis. And with the club finishing fifth in the league, the only realistic demand that Galatasaray fans will have is to qualify for the Champions’ League. A bit of a tall order considering how the footballing scene has changed in the past few seasons with once rank outsiders Sivasspor having challenged for top honors this season and winning a qualification berth for the Champions’ League in addition to a resurgent Trabzonspor and the usual Istanbul suspects.

Yet by hitting rock bottom, by Galatasaray’s standards, the only way is up and barring some unexpected results of the Juande Ramos kind at White Hart Lane, Rijkaard can quietly show Europe and potentially the world his attacking philosophy through Galatasaray.