Sunday 24 September 2017

Wenger tribute as Mr Arsenal retires

Pat Rice and Arsene Wenger strike a familiar pose in the dugout at the Emirates Stadium
Pat Rice and Arsene Wenger strike a familiar pose in the dugout at the Emirates Stadium

Henry Winter

THE man known as 'Mr Arsenal,' Pat Rice, is leaving the club after 44 years distinguished service as apprentice, double-winning No 2 as a player and double-winning No 2 as a coach, who occasionally kicked Arsene Wenger when tension gripped the dugout.

Rice is succeeded by Steve Bould, another famous Arsenal defender and respected club coach, as Wenger promotes from within.

With Rice deciding to retire aged 63, Bould's elevation from head youth-team coach is a shrewd one by Wenger, bringing some fresh ideas to the first-team training field, a focus on drilling the defence more and perhaps somebody who will challenge the boss when needed. The players know and like Bould (49).

QUALITIES

"His qualities are that he has experience of the top-level game, he has managed here, he knows our football philosophy so there'll be continuity,'' said Wenger.

Arsenal's manager was effusive in his praise of his outgoing assistant. "He's just been tremendous,'' said Wenger of Rice. "It's a sad, sad, sad day. His life was linked with Arsenal and Arsenal have been privileged to have him as a player, a captain, a coach, and personally I'm very grateful for his contribution to my period here.''

Having first entered the Marble Halls of Highbury in 1964, Rice went on to become what Wenger hailed as a "true Arsenal legend," first as a right-back.

Rice's finest moments as an Arsenal player came in the 1971 Double team and lifting the FA Cup in 1979 after Liam Brady, Graham Rix and Alan Sunderland had combined to stun Manchester United in the final minute.

Respected for his humility, Rice was one of the most iconic celebrators of special moments. After the occasional foray into the box had been rewarded with a goal, Rice would hold both arms aloft, while a huge beam crossed his face. The smile when he collected the FA Cup in 79, moving slightly away from the dignitaries to face the Arsenal fans better, lit up Wembley.

He left for Watford in 1980. In the fourth of his successful years at Vicarage Road, Rice was helping Graham Taylor coach some of the youth players on Monday nights when Don Howe called from Arsenal. Howe asked Taylor whether Rice would return to Arsenal, helping out with their youth team. Taylor understood the emotional pull of Arsenal to Rice and let him go.

As in his playing days, Rice proved the perfect club man as a coach, loyal and hard-working, even standing in as caretaker for three Premier League games in 1996 after Stewart Houston was dismissed. When Wenger arrived, the Frenchman realised Rice's importance because of his popularity with the players.

"It's important when you come from abroad to have an assistant who knows the culture of the club and the country,'' added Wenger. "He knew Arsenal and English football, and nobody more than Pat Rice is a fighter. He's kicked me a few times during games!"

Rice himself was immediately impressed with Wenger's deep knowledge of the playing staff. He was still surprised at the first half-time under Wenger, at Ewood Park, when the Frenchman insisted on silence, even glaring at Rice when he ventured to speak. After a couple of minutes allowing the players to regain their breath and capacity to listen, Wenger spoke calmly, giving instructions, preparing them again.

The pair proved a successful blend, winning two Doubles together. "I would like him to forgive me the bad moments I've given him as well,'' said Wenger. "He's decided to stop because, 'nervously,' it's becoming more difficult. He deserves to have a good time now." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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