For three years Frank Rijkaard and Henk Ten Cate shared unbridled success at Barcelona. Back-to-back La Liga titles in 2004/05 and 2005/06 as well as the 2006 Champions League title helped make the Spanish side the force they are today. Then the pair's hopes were just as quickly stubbed out. Tonight they find themselves on opposite sides and in surroundings few would have imagined when they lifted Europe's biggest club prize three years ago.
Rijkaard, now technical director at Galatasaray, will host Ten Cate's Panathinaikos in the Europa League. A point for the visitors would see them both qualify for the last 32 from Group F. Together they were formidable. Rijkaard's quiet demeanour complemented by the fiery Ten Cate, who helped keep egos in check at Camp Nou. When the latter left in 2006 to take up the managerial post at Ajax, things took a downward turn for both men.
Ten Cate spent a year at his hometown club before becoming the assistant to Avram Grant at Chelsea. Many predicted he was preparing for Rijkaard's arrival, but departed last year when Luiz Felipe Scolari took over the reins at Stamford Bridge. Ten Cate's fellow Dutchman was similarly looking for work after leaving Barcelona, unable to find the winning formula following the departure of his trusted right-hand man.
Now they stand alone, trying to restore their reputations in neighbouring countries and at clubs with fanatical followers with high ambitions. As ever, reaching the Champions League is the main target. Rijkaard's side, fourth in the Super Lig, contains a sprinkling of familiar names and ones who, like their coach, are also looking to return to better times. Players such as the Brazilian playmaker Elano, Milan Baros, Shabani Nonda, who had a disappointing loan spell at Blackburn, and Harry Kewell.
That final trio have accounted for 34 of the club's goals this season with Kewell, particularly, enjoying a new lease of life after ending an injury-plagued 13-year stint in the Premier League. Galatasaray's last major European trophy was the Uefa Cup in 2000, but Kewell believed Rijkaard can revive their fortunes. "We've got a great manager now and the players are learning a lot so only good things are going to come from this team," he said.
"Rijkaard's given me confidence. You always have to prove yourself and he keeps you on your toes. If you are slacking he will let you know, but he tells you in a nice way." That has generally been Rijkaard's style of management. Ten Cate joked that he would kill Rijkaard if he left Athens with all three points when the sides first met two months ago. Galatasaray won 3-1, but Rijkaard will welcome Ten Cate for the return at the Ali Sami Yen Stadium.
The friends will celebrate Rijkaard's wife giving birth to a baby boy and Ten Cate's 55th birthday next week, but on the pitch they will be adversaries. Ten Cate will return to Holland at the end of the season to join Go Ahead Eagles. Claiming the Europa League would be a fitting farewell to his time in Greece. For Rijkaard, the same could mean a step back to the biggest stage once more. @Email:email@example.com