Steve Bould steps up to fix Arsenal's leaky defence
How can such a wrenching change be made smoothly? Pat Rice is leaving Arsenal, after 16 years as assistant manager, depriving Arsène Wenger of the man who has been his second-in-command for his entire time at the club. But having replaced him with Steve Bould, someone with his own lifetime of Arsenal service, on and off the pitch, Wenger must hope for as serene a transition as possible.
To describe Rice as part of the furniture at Arsenal is an understatement, though not many beds or chairs are in the same place now as they were in 1966. His record is unmatchable, of course, but Bould has himself worked for the club for most of his adult life.
Wenger insisted yesterday that Bould's Arsenal CV, particularly as a successful youth-team coach, would ensure continuity. "His qualities are that he has experience of the top-level game," the manager said of his new assistant.
"He has managed here, he knows our football philosophy. So there'll be continuity. He's coached here at the club and we want to give advantage to people at the club who know how we work and know how to coach."
Bould's time at the club began under George Graham when he was signed from Stoke City in 1988. He was a foundation stone of the impermeable Graham defence which won the title in 1989 and again in 1991. The 1998 Double-winning team, arguably Wenger's most complete side, with a ferocious physical competitive edge, had Bould as part of it. With Dennis Bergkamp now assistant manager at Ajax, and Patrick Vieira football development executive at Manchester City, it is about time Arsenal themselves harvested some experience from that team.
Having an assistant manager who knows what it is like to wear the shirt is seen as important. Wenger said that Rice's on-field career – he played in a Double-winning Arsenal side himself, in 1971 – was crucial to his appointment. "It's important when you come from abroad," Wenger said yesterday, "to have an assistant who knows the culture of the club and the country." Wenger, of course, no longer needs someone to tell him about the English game, but that bond, from the bench to the shirt to the pitch, still matters.
Some fans might feel that Bould, as well as being a former hero, represents their concerns. There have been audible calls from some Arsenal supporters for a while about revamping the coaching staff. Wenger and Rice have been very successful, but seven years without a trophy suggests their closed shop might benefit from new ideas. Sir Alex Ferguson, the master of regeneration, has changed assistants over the years. Wenger has not.
Complaints about Wenger's methods have focused on organisation at the back. Arsenal's defence is regressing: this year they have conceded 47 goals, 43 last year, 41 the year before that, then 37, then 31. Who better to instil the right rigour into the back four than a man who was part of so many red walls? Issues over marking and positioning should be swiftly identified.
Bould has been intimately involved with youth development, which is so fundamental to the club. The flow of young talent into the first team has allowed Arsenal to constantly rejuvenate. Having taken the Under-18s to the Premier Academy League titles in 2009 and 2010, as well as the 2009 Youth Cup, Bould has moulded many of those players on their way.
Jack Wilshere, Wojciech Szczesny and Kieran Gibbs have all played for Bould, and Gibbs has spoken warmly about his impact. "Steve Bould had a big influence on me," the young left-back said. "He was my manager for two years and I think it was at an important stage in my development as well.He taught me a lot, and he taught a lot of the other players as well, how to live – on and off the pitch."
At a club built on progressive continuity, who better than Bould to do it?