Football: Rioch comes home to roost with Canaries

Norwich manager has found a new lease of life after strife in London.
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The Independent Online
TO TALK with Bruce Rioch in the handsome surroundings of the Norwich training ground, to share his enthusiasm for the job of masterminding the recovery of a club which went dramatically from European upstarts to Nationwide League strugglers, to discover his determination to commit himself to a new life in Norfolk, is to be left in no doubt that there is life in football after the humiliation of the sack.

It is something that Rioch has discussed with his good friend and one- time international team-mate Kenny Dalglish who, with the new season just two weeks old, found himself turning to the late summer holiday brochures when Newcastle decided on a managerial change.

If that was an unusual experience for the two-time championship-winner, Rioch can trump it. Two years ago he was five days away from the start of his second season with Arsenal, having guided the north London club into Europe, when he learned he was no longer wanted. Then there was his subsequent time at Queen's Park Rangers and the farce of discovering, via Ceefax, that both he and Stewart Houston, his right-hand man at Highbury but his "boss" at Loftus Road, had been dismissed.

Football is, however, a cyclical business and Rioch's new charges have responded with the same sense of purpose and conviction. The first six weeks of the season have seen the Canaries flying high again at the head of the First Division.

The eight-month post-Rangers break recharged him and left Rioch hungry to return to the world of touchline tension and motorway miles. Delia Smith's club and the opportunity to work with his former Everton team- mate Brian Hamilton, the new Norwich director of football, had just the right feel about it.

"There was never a period when I felt I had finished with the game," Rioch explains. "I was too ingrained in it, my competitive instincts were still too sharp to contemplate doing anything else." He formed an instant rapport with the Norwich directors and that was important given past occurrences.

He also believed in the potential of a club well practiced in discovering young players of outstanding talent. For Chris Sutton, Ruel Fox and Jeremy Goss from Mike Walker's 1993 Uefa Cup giant-killers read the brash but brilliant Craig Bellamy, the jet-propelled Darren Eadie and also Keith O'Neill.

So certain is he of the future that Rioch has bought a new home on the Norfolk Broads. That is significant when it is remembered that even during his three years at Bolton (taking the team from the old Third Division into the top flight) the family remained at their long-time Hertfordshire base.

With that location, the Arsenal offer was irresistible in every sense. The parting of the ways 13 months later left him very disappointed. "I can't tell you exactly how long it took to get it out of my system but it was some time," he recalled. "At Arsenal it was made worse because there you have the privilege of working at one of the biggest clubs of all, a club of world renown.

"As a manager you lose your job in one of two ways, either because of results or because of events. Bearing in mind that the previous season Arsenal had finished equal fourth and qualified for Europe, it was not results that cost me my job. I know Arsene Wenger's name had been mentioned and it appeared that one or two members of the board may have wanted to bring him in."

The Loftus Road fiasco he dismisses as: "Bloody stupid". "To have read about my own dismissal on Ceefax, before anyone from the club had been in touch, should tell you everything about the situation there. No matter how many excuses they make it can never properly explain it away."

The Rioch regime leaves the Norwich players having to adapt to longer hours at work and regular afternoon sessions with a fitness coach. "It is something that has been the norm on the Continent for a long time. Football is big business and you have to look at every way of getting the players in the best condition."

So not much sympathy in the afternoon for Eadie and Co as they pound the beat. And no tea either: Rioch has removed both tea and coffee from his diet - a legacy of his time at Highbury with Dennis Bergkamp, who drinks only hot water and lemon. The new Norwich manager looks set for a long and healthy stay at Carrow Road.