When he was eulogising about Sir Alex Ferguson ahead of Barcelona's semi-final first leg against Manchester United, Frank Rijkaard was asked if he believed such a long and glorious reign at one club would ever be possible again.
"You have to say that it is very difficult to see," he said. "It could happen, but it will be hard to achieve the things that he has achieved, especially with a big club like Manchester United."
Rijkaard will almost certainly not get the chance to emulate his rival's trophy haul should his Barcelona side fail to get past United on Tuesday. His two league titles and one European Cup in his first five years is far better than Ferguson's early record at United, but the Dutch coach will not be spared.
There will be no dramatic sacking, but the club president, Joan Laporta, is expected to look elsewhere as Barcelona prepare for next season. If 2008-09 completed a hat-trick of trophyless campaigns Laporta's own head would be on a platter, so the coach will go.
However, after last Tuesday's goalless draw, Rijkaard is optimistic he will not be bowing out at Old Trafford. United's tendency to leave space was to some extent exposed at the Nou Camp, and with them needing to score at home, Barcelona believe those spaces can only get bigger in the second leg.
There has been a feeling in the Barcelona dressing-room since the draw was made that United are easier opposition than the two other English sides left in the tournament – an opinion Rijkaard tentatively shares. "They are first in the Premier League and that means they are a really strong side able to cope with Liverpool and Chelsea," he says. "But Liverpool are a well-organised machine. They defend very well and their play is very direct. I think it is true that Manchester have more individual players, so maybe that suits us a little bit more."
Many of those individuals were sacrificed at the Nou Camp, with Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez spending more time defending than attacking, and Rijkaard was not surprised by such a selfless display.
"It is that team spirit and organisation that makes them something special," he says. But he and his players know that Tevez and Rooney will be far less shackled by defensive responsibilities on Tuesday, perhaps making the defence more vulnerable.
The midfielder Deco says: "When I saw that Tevez, Rooney and Ronaldo were all starting, I thought they would be pressuring us high up the pitch, but that was not the case. They defended quite deep. They will not be able to do that in front of their own fans. [Lionel] Messi had a lot of players on top of him when he received the ball, but in Manchester they will have to attack us more – and that is good for us."
Thierry Henry is expected to play a more important role in the second leg. Rijkaard made the 17-year-old Bojan Krkic his first change last Wednesday, with Henry coming on later in the game. But his familiarity with Old Trafford and the massive point he has to prove after such a low-key first season could mean he starts the second leg.
"He had a difficult start because he was recovering from a long-term injury," Rijkaard says. "But when he recovered completely, that is when we saw in some games Thierry Henry feeling good on the pitch and making the difference."
Rijkaard describes his French striker as having "great possibilities" and as someone who is working hard to become a "very important player of the team".
Tuesday could be decisive in that process for the former Arsenal striker. With or without Henry, Tuesday will definitely be decisive for Rijkaard.Reuse content