Football: Marrying into Arsenal

Glenn Moore on the Bruce Rioch antidote for the wayward footballer
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The Independent Online
There can be few teams approaching the season with as much enthusiasm and trepidation as Arsenal. There is a new manager with an impressive pedigree; there are pounds 12m of new signings in Dennis Bergkamp and David Platt; and there is enough confidence to inspire the best season-ticket sales for years.

However, for several players, there is a history of off-field shenannigans which sits uneasily with their manager's reputation as a moral disciplinarian.

"I don't lay down rules but there are guidelines we all need to follow," insisted Bruce Rioch, the new manager of Arsenal, at their Hertfordshire training ground yesterday. "This is a very public occupation which has an effect on people. We all have responsibilities in life and I hope players recognise that."

Rioch also put forward his cure for players who appeared on the front pages of the tabloids as often as the back - get married. "I only buy players who are married. At Bolton [his previous club] the only player I bought who was not was Alan Thompson. He was 19 and we quickly found him a girlfriend.

"Marriage brings stability, it means I know where they are in the evenings - watching Coronation Street."

This is not a new philosophy, Harry Catterick followed it at Everton 30 years ago and one can see the logic. However, it does not always work - Paul Merson left a pregnant wife and two children at home while he was fuelling his alcohol, gambling and drug addictions.

Merson - newly adorned with an unbleached Gazza-style crop - is one player whose progress will be carefully watched under Rioch. The initial signs are promising. Numbers 7 to 11 are believed to have been allocated to Platt, Ian Wright, Merson, Bergkamp and Helder, respectively.

However, Rioch has yet to see his team play and only saw Arsenal once last year, so much could change before their season kicks off, in front of the Sky cameras, at home to Middlesbrough on 20 August.

Whoever plays, the approach will be more adventurous than Arsenal fans are accustomed to. "We want to get at the opposition," said Rioch who talked of "style and class" as well as those Arsenal favourites, "resilience and team-spirit".

Bergkamp, happy to escape the defensive shackles of Italy, added: "I have already seen, in a few days of training, that he wants to attack, wants to win matches."

On Tuesday Arsenal leave for a short tour of Sweden. By then the club expect their first game will be sold out. "Boring, boring, Arsenal" may be the team to follow this season - especially if you want to marry a footballer.