Arsenal Assistant Manager Pat Rice Retires: A Look Back at His Career

Matthew Snyder@schnides14Analyst IIIMay 10, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 16:  Pat Rice assistant manager of Arsenal gestures during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Sunderland at the Emirates Stadium on October 16, 2011 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

The picture said it all.

A cluster of the newest Arsenal crop of players, cloistered around second manager Pat Rice—he of the iconic sunglasses and animated gesticulations on the sideline during Gunners matches.

Rice's significance to the club could be summed up by the players in attendance: captain Robin van Persie, Thomas Vermaelen, Tomas Rosicky, Jack Wilshere, Wojciech Szczesny, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain...the list went on and on.

Old, young, new to the club or old hand. Each knew how important this man was. Each knows they will miss him—Rice has finally decided to step down from his assistant manager position following the season. At 63, he seems to know it is time.

Current youth team coach Steve Bould will assume Rice's position, a move that many fans have applauded.

Many people bemoan the days of old, where players would stay with one club, and one club only. In Pat Rice's case (save for one blip with Watford), that hope was proven true.

Forty-four years of service; don't they go by in a blink.

Those four decades were filled with the 400 appearances Rice made for Arsenal, a club he'd joined as a youngster and eventually rose to the senior team.

When he made his professional break, he featured predominantly as a right-back during some of Arsenal's best seasons in the '70s.

READING, UNITED KINGDOM - OCTOBER 22:  Arsene Wenger the Arsenal manager and assistant Pat Rice watch from the dug-out during the Barclays Premiership match between Reading and Arsenal at the Madejski Stadium on October 22, 2006 in Reading, England.  (Pho
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

During the 1970-71 season, Rice helped lead the Gunners to a domestic double, playing in central midfield.

That season in particular was a testament to the Northern Ireland-born and London resident's versatility and willingness to do whatever was needed to help the club succeed.

He didn't care where he played; he cared if the team won.

Rice will go down as one of only three Arsenal players to have played in five FA Cup finals (Ray Parlour and David Seaman are the other two), and he was awarded the captaincy in the latter stages of his Gunners career. 

As fitting a testament as could be given for the level of dedication he had shown at Arsenal.

Rice ended his playing career at Watford, but rejoined Arsenal in 1984 as the youth team coach. He would lead his charges to two FA Youth Cup titles, and held the post for 12 years until 1996 when he took over as manager for the first team following the resignation of Stewart Houston.

Rice would last only three league matches—he won all three—before the arrival of one Arsene Wenger from Japanese side Nagoya Grampus Eight.

Wenger, ever the astute observer, kept Rice on as his assistant. The rest, as they say, became history. The two have been working in tandem on the Arsenal bench ever since.

Rice, ever-present on the sidelines and as inextricably linked to the club's fabric as any man in its 125-year history, was with the side during its recent heyday in the late '90s and early 2000s, and he has stayed on through the rough patches of recent memory.

In action for the Gunners in 1979.
In action for the Gunners in 1979.Getty Images/Getty Images

There have been hints in recent seasons he was leaning toward retirement, but he kept coming back. Whatever his reasons—he's never been one to talk much to the press—they were likely good ones. He likely felt he could keep teaching, keep doing his job. And keep doing it exceptionally well.

Not much was known of Rice—he was never one to shoot off his mouth or become embroiled in controversy—but just one look at Twitter on Wednesday told you everything about his significance to this club.

The messages of support, gratitude and thanks streamed through from fans, players and pundits alike.

Emmanuel Eboue, a cult figure during much of his time with Arsenal who has since moved on to Turkish club Galatasaray, took the time to express his thanks to Rice.

"Pat Rice was like a father," Eboue tweeted. "Good and honest Man. Thanks for the contribution you made to my life and career. Gunners for Life."

He was joined by van Persie and Wilshere, who were both in awe of the extent of Rice's service to the club.

The man will be sorely missed. Bould will do a fine job, surely, but there's something that becomes irretrievably lost when someone as important as Rice steps down and begins that process of fading into the sunset.

It seems almost unfair that Rice will not be on hand to watch the Gunners enter into what promises to be a captivating 2012-13 season, where silverware looks as real a prospect as it has ever been since Patrick Vieira hoisted the 2005 FA Cup trophy aloft.

With Henry in 2006.
With Henry in 2006.Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Rice deserved to see the fruits of his labors. He's worked for them these past several seasons. Now, he will watch from a distance further than the sideline.

But maybe that's fitting, in a way. Rice knows the club is in good hands. He knows he's done what he can for these players; he knows they're pointed in the right direction. They can now complete their journey.

And like any legend, rest assured that he will not be forgotten by them. Should Arsenal get their hands on silverware anytime soon, one man perhaps more than most deserves recognition for helping them get there.

Heck, he might even get a statue outside the Emirates. No one would deserve it more.

It might be the first statue in history with sunglasses. A fitting tribute to the man who separated himself from the rest.