Before arriving at Barcelona, Rijkaard had played in the Dutch and Italian leagues, as well as appearing in Holland's national selection. His appointment as manager of Barcelona caused some surprise as he was considered to lack experience.
Rijkaard's professional footballing career started at Ajax when he was given his first team debut in 1980 at the age of 17. Scoring in his first match, he went on to play a total of 24 league matches in his first season with a total of 4 goals . Two years later the team went on to win the league trophy, a feat that the team repeated the following year.
The second half of Rijkaard's time at Ajax was spent under manager Johan Cruyff, but in 1987 Rijkaard stormed out of a training session and vowed he would never play for Cruyff again. Signing to Sporting Clube de Portugal too late in the season to play, he was immediately loaned to Zaragoza in Spain, where he played for a single season.
At the end of the season Rijkaard was signed by AC Milan, where he stayed for five years. Moving from a central defence to midfield, his aggressive play helped the team win both the Italian Serie A and the European cup on two occasions.
He returned to Ajax under Luis Van Gaal in 1993, and helped the team win the Dutch league on two occasions. His final match saw Ajax beat AC Milan 1-0 in the Champions League final in 1995.
Internationally Rijkaard won 73 caps for Holland and scored 10 goals, although his success was sometimes marred by his temperament, such as when he spat at Germany's Rudi Völler several times during the 1990 World Cup.
After acting as assistant coach to in the Netherlands national squad he was appointed manager to the team in 1998, and although he was not considered to have enough experience for the job his team was able to make it through to the semi-finals of Euro 2000 .
After losing to Italy on penalties Rijkaard quit immediately but took on the role of manager for Sparta Rotterdam for the 2001-2002 season. The season went disastrously for him and saw the team relegated to the second division for the first time in its history. He and the directors did not get along and with this final straw he was forced out.
His appointment as manager of FC Barcelona in 2003 caused plenty of raised eyebrows, but with two league wins and a Champions League title to his name he has firmly proved the doubters wrong.