Date: 18th April 2012 at 9:29am
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It`s widely known but rarely spoken about that Arsenal have a big decision to make this summer. Beyond the superficial tittle tattle of transfer talk; there`s one decision the manager will have to take. Last year, Arsenal assistant manager Pat Rice had planned to retire due to an ongoing knee complaint which was causing his discomfort. Arsene managed to persuade him to stay for one more year. This summer, Rice will definitely retire. Rice played for Arsenal from 1966 until 1980 and has served on the coaching staff- as Youth Team coach, Reserve team coach and Assistant Manager- since 1984. 42 years of service to one club suggests he should leave with the sincerest commendation.

The question as to who should replace Rice is a tricky one. It seems very likely that an ex Arsenal player will take the position. Supporters are incredibly fond of tossing out the names of club legends when coaching positions come up without ever really considering what that individual`s coaching acumen is. However, the Assistant Manager role can be ideal for such a candidate. Whether or not they hold future management ambitions. (Rice turned down the Northern Ireland job around 5 years ago). Rice himself was appointed by Wenger for continuity. He basically kept a link to Arsenal`s values and culture, which Wenger is so keen on and I see him wanting to maintain a similar kind of link. But the key to Wenger`s next right hand man will essentially come down to what he wants for the role. Given past public statements, I don`t think the manager wants anything to do with his successor, so I don`t think we`ll see any “grooming” going on here.

An assistant needs to be something of a confidante to the players as well as the manager. Someone the players respect and will go to for advice. This is why someone that has achieved as a player can be ideal. But it also comes down to what Wenger wants. I think he`ll want someone totally at one with his ethos. We`ll see a character he`d converse with rather than one that would shout him down. A trusted aid rather than a soundboard. Nevertheless, there appear to be some more obvious candidates than others. In no particular order, they appear to be:

Steve BOULD– The favourite at the moment. Rumours suggest Bould has been offered the job already and is currently weighing it up. Whilst Adams took much of the media spotlight for his stint at centre half for the club; Bould was the quieter and more cultured of the two. A true thinking man`s defender and this appears to have translated into his coaching career. Bould has been involved in Arsenal`s youth set up since 2001 and was appointed Manager of the U-18s in 2005. He spent eleven years as a player at Arsenal, winning three league titles, two F.A. Cups and a Cup Winners Cup. He`s been part of Wenger`s coaching staff for eleven years.

This suggests Wenger has great belief and trust in his abilities. Bould is a link between the old Arsenal and the new Arsenal. As a coach and as a player, he is drenched in the club`s ethos. He`s already handled the likes of Gibbs and Wilshere- who have great respect for him. He`s dignified and quiet- you don`t see many interviews with him and Wenger usually favours individuals that don`t run their tongue to the press too often. As an ex defender, Bould also has expertise in one of Wenger`s weak spots as a coach. He would appear to be the prime candidate.

Neil BANFIELD– If Bould is to turn down the position and Arsene doesn`t want to shake things up too much, Reserve Manager Neil Banfield could be in with a shout for much the same reasons Bould is. Banfield has been involved in the youth set up since 1997, working his way up to managing the Reserves when Eddie Niedzwiecki left to be Blackburn assistant in 2005. Banfield is familiar to the players, has had a hand in the progression of the likes of Wilshere, Djourou and Gibbs. Again, he`s an ex centre half. He`d be a “safe” appointment. The question is, is that really what Arsenal need?

Martin KEOWN– Keown`s considered, articulate approach to punditry has won him admirers and he is still a regular visitor at Arsenal`s training ground. He`s obviously somebody Arsene trusts, having been invited to Colney to help obtain his UEFA B License in 2006. Keown is another one who forges an identifiable link with the club`s recent success. You imagine his approachable demeanour would see him respected by the players together with his forceful will and appreciation of “The Arsenal way.” He still enjoys a regular dialogue with Arsene, despite his media position. That suggests the manager trusts his character enough to give him privileged information. How much Arsene would trust his coaching ability is another question. Of course, it`s entirely possible that, in the event Bould or Banfield are promoted, Keown could be invited to “backfill” one of their positions. Like Bould, he has the education of Graham`s relentless defensive drilling and Arsene`s coaching style.

Tony ADAMS– Another member of the famed back five. Adams is one of the most revered leaders and players in Arsenal`s history. Adams was tipped by many to be a potentially great manager due to his on pitch captaincy style. But coaching and leadership can be different skills and Adams has ultimately fallen short as a manager. However, he has been prepared to broaden his horizons, having taken coaching stints in Holland and Azerbaijan, as well as serving as Redknapp`s assistant at Portsmouth. Relations appeared to be frosty between Adams and the club following his retirement in 2002, but he`s started to become a regular at London Colney again since Christmas. The statue outside the ground seemingly symbolising healed rifts.

Adams has some coaching experience already, he is part of the club`s history and it`s successes but he has also spent time away from it and seen the big wide world. Theoretically, he offers a fresh, external perspective as well as an Arsenal view. His frosty relations with the club suggest he`s prepared to challenge if he feels it necessary, but there exists a healthy respect between Adams and Wenger. Perhaps a coaching relationship could see them harness that friction for good? Whether practise would turn out as good as theory there is open to debate.

Gilles GRIMANDI– Had Rice not answered Arsene`s plea and retired last summer as he intended, Grimandi was the man the manager apparently lined up to be his replacement. Gilles became an important squad member from 1997-2002, having also played under Wenger at Monaco in his early career. The utility player connected with his manager philosophically as well as footballistically. Grimandi appeared to be more sensitive and intelligent than your average footballer. Part of the reason he left Colorado Rapids quickly after joining from Arsenal in 2002 was because living in post 9/11 America offended his political sensibilities. I recall an interview with Grimandi in about 2001. When asked what he would pursue in retirement, he answered that he wanted to take a law degree and learn a different vocation.

Wenger and Grimandi stayed in touch and after Gilles had to leave his post as a Football Director at AOS Valence in 2005, Arsene appointed Grimandi as a scout in the French leagues. Given the amount of shopping the manager does in France, it`s a key position he has entrusted Grimandi with. There was even talk of GG being appointed into a Director of Football role briefly mooted following Dein`s departure. Grimandi has been key in the acquisitions of Diaby, Sagna, Koscielny, Nasri, Squillaci, Gervinho and Chamakh. Gilles is another that ticks a lot of Wenger`s boxes. The two have a long association, the manager clearly trusts him and Gilles is a quiet and considered character. However, the leap from watching players to coaching players is a big one. But I think Wenger would get a kick out of shaping Gilles into a good coach if he saw the potential.

Dennis BERGKAMP– Based on sentiment alone, this would be a hugely popular choice with supporters. One of the club`s greatest ever players working in tandem with one of its greatest managers would pluck the strings of romance in a fan`s mind. Bergkamp would command respect from the current playing squad because he has played recently enough for his exploits to be fresh with younger and older players alike. There`s no doubt he would hold gravitas. The Dutchman is newly keen on a coaching career, having originally turned down an offer from Arsenal to become a scout in the Dutch leagues when he retired in 2006. (That office is now held by Marc Overmars).

In 2008. Bergkamp relented and began to study for a Dutch coaching diploma in 2008. His assigned mentor for the certificate? Arsene Wenger. Thereafter, Marco van Basten gave him a trainee coaching role at Ajax, involving him with the club`s youth set up. Much like Bould at Arsenal, Bergkamp has risen quickly and was appointed Ajax`s Assistant Manager to ex teammate Ronald de Boer last summer. It`s possible Bergkamp`s coaching career could follow a similar trajectory to his playing career. You have to think he`d be a carrot for transfer targets, particularly forwards. However, the elephant in the room is his aviophobia, which would prevent him travelling for European fixtures.

Patrick VIEIRA– Like Bergkamp, another in the club legend mould whose achievements are fresh enough in the memory to command relevance with the current squad. Indeed, many of the current squad will know him individually. A couple played with him. However, I think this is a candidature with more poetry than logic. Vieira has no coaching experience whatsoever, having undertaken an ambassadorial role at Manchester City since his retirement last summer. Many Gooners groaned as to why we hadn`t brought him back ourselves. Vieira himself mournfully answered the same question, “I wasn`t asked.”

That`s always amused me. I`m not even sure I know what it is he does at Manchester City. I see the job title. I don`t actually know what it means. Neither do most Arsenal fans if they`re honest with themselves. If someone really can break down what he does for 8 hours a day and why it`d be so crucial to Arsenal, I`d be interested to hear. Vieira`s been mentioned as a candidate by some, but not for me this one.

A.NOTHER– Of course, we could be totally surprised by the appointment. It could come from left field. As I said earlier, I strongly don`t believe Arsene will look to groom Arsenal`s next manager, but he might well reach into his book of contacts for someone from further afield that he trusts. Much like Martin Keown, Lee Dixon has (rightly) won plaudits for his thoughtful, considered punditry in a sea of smug BBC blandness. But punditry and coaching are of course, very different pursuits. Much was said about the positive influence Thierry Henry brought to the training ground during his loan spell and it could be that we see the most sentimental reunion of the century. But I would guess Arsene would want someone with at least some experience of coaching. The manager speaks in very good terms of current Grampus 8`s Serbian Manager Dragan Stojkovic. Jean Marc Gillou gave Wenger his first break in coaching and the two have enjoyed a fruitful relationship since. Arsenal bought heavily into Gillou`s Abidjan coaching academy, for which he used Beveren as a feeder club. Gillou is responsible for the development of almost the entire Ivory Coast squad. Beveren and Arsenal enjoyed a short term partnership in the early 221st century. However, at 67 years old, Gillou is an unlikely appointment.

If I were a betting man, I would say the job is Steve Bould`s to turn down from what I`m hearing. It seems as though Bould will be promoted and then I`d venture that either Keown or Adams will then be asked to backfill Bould`s job as U-18 coach. Should Bould decide he doesn`t want the job, I think Grimandi could be Arsene`s man. I think the club will want the transition to be as smooth as possible this summer and a quiet, no frills appointment which doesn`t see too much of a backroom shake up strikes me as the most likely option. But we shall see in the coming months I guess. LD.

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