AUGUST 23: FRANK RIJKAARD AND JARI LITMANEN MAKE THEIR AJAX BOWS TO START THEIR ICONIC CAREERS

August 23 has long held a special place in the heart of AFC fans. It is on this date that two of their footballing greats, Frank Rijkaard and Jari Litmanen made their debuts in 1980 and 1992 respectively. The Dutch great became a household name for club and country before going on to have a successful managerial career.

 

 

Meanwhile, the Finnish attacker remains the greatest player of his nation largely due to his play at Ajax. On this auspicious day for one of the worldโ€™s most beloved teams, FootTheBall recalls the careers of the two players in the .

 

FRANK RIJKAARD

NATIVE BOY

Rijkaard was born and brought up in Amsterdam so it made perfect sense for him to begin his career at Ajax. The defensive midfielder made his senior team debut at the tender age of 17, scoring in the first match of the 1980-81 season.

 

 

He quickly developed into a regular fixture of the squad but times were tough under Aad de Mos with the manager bemoaning his inexperience. Though he managed to win three league titles and the Dutch Cup once, the arrival of Johan Cruyff really transformed his play to a much higher level.

 

 

Rijkaard became an expert with the ball at his feet, noted for his exemplary work-rate and passing along with energy to combat across the entirety of the match. He was able to link-up plays with balls from deep which made him an essential creator in the squad, even crossing double figures in goals across all competitions twice.

Under Cruyff and yet to turn 25 even, Rijkaard won another Dutch Cup along with his first European trophy- the Cup Winners Cup. However, an infamous clash with the manager led Rijkaard to demand a transfer away from the club in 1987 which put an end to his first chapter.

 

HOMECOMING HERO

After an immensely successful, trophy-laden spell with , where he became one of the best in his position, Rijkaard returned to Ajax in 1993. Under the stewardship of and with teammate Danny Blind, he formed the impregnable defensive duo who led them to two consecutive Eredivisie crowns.

 

 

The 1994-95 campaign was one of the best as they went undefeated in the league while also lifting the UEFA Champions League, defeating his old club in the final. That was also his last professional match with the 33-year-old retiring as a truly great player of his time.

 

WHERE IS HE NOW?

Rijkaardโ€™s most remembered managerial is of course with , leading the side to five major titles including the 2006 Champions League while also overseeing the debut of Lionel Messi. He was a head coach for 16 years but revealed in 2017 that it was not something that was a total fit for him.

 

 

Rijkaard never saw himself as continuing on for too long in this role so he quit. Nowadays, he spends most of his time with family overseeing the numerous property investments having retreated from the footballing view completely.

 

JARI LITMANEN

PLAYMAKER FROM ABROAD

The Finn was already an established starter across three of his homelandโ€™s top-flight clubs by the time Ajax came calling. His performance in the final of 1992 Finnish, including scoring caught the eye of a scout from the Dutch club who urged them to sign him. Despite Louis van Gaalโ€™s reluctance to play him too much in his debut season with just 14 appearances across all competitions, better days were soon coming.

 

 

The impending departure of Dennis Bergkamp saw van Gaal give the number 10 shirt to Litmanen who was thus initiated as the departing heroโ€™s successor. The move paid instant dividends with the attacker racking up 26 goals in the 1993-94 season, the most in the league. Along with winning the league, Litmanen was also named the Footballer of the Year.

 

Jari Litmanen

Image credits: english.ajax.nl

 

He won three titles in a row along with the Champions League in 1995, being a teammate of Rijkaard at the same time. The Dutch midfielder named him โ€œthe best number 10 we ever had.โ€ Furthermore, Litmanen also won three Dutch Cups as well as the Intercontinental Cup in 1995.

 

 

He was an intelligent goal scorer, able to manoeuvre in tight spaces and setting up teammates too. With 129 goals in all competitions for Ajax, he was a bonafide hero for the club along with being the best of his nation. However, injuries began to crop up during the latter part of his Ajax career which would follow him in future as well.

 

UNDERWHELMING PART TWO

Having left in 1999, Litmanen returned in 2002 after two underwhelming, injury-filled spells at Barcelona and respectively. Despite helping Ajax to the quarter-finals of the Champions League, his performances had certainly lost the previous spark. He only scored seven goals during the first season while none the following campaign, though he did win another title.

 

 

The injury bug prevented him from regularly playing which led to his departure in 2004. Litmanenโ€™s future travels were much the same except for his last with HJK where he won the double of league and cup. He remains Ajaxโ€™s leading goal scorer in European competitions (26 goals).

Since retiring, Litmanen entered punditry with Finnish broadcasting company YLE, overseeing Euros and World Cups recently. He continues to be a commentator for international games and the Finnish matches as well.

You don't have permission to register