At last, after all those years in the shadows, here is the chance to show what I can do, to prove that I've been the brains behind the operation all along. With the boss under fire who knows what it might lead to?
Those sentiments may be thought by some assistant managers when given their chance to assume control for a match, but not Pat Rice. Arsenal's long-serving No 2 will be in charge when Olympiakos come to the Emirates tonight as Arsène Wenger serves the second and final match of a Uefa ban. Wenger will not be allowed contact with the team from arrival at the stadium to the final whistle.
The first match of Wenger's ban was a fortnight ago, in Germany, and Rice admitted he hated every minute of it. "It was extremely strange not to have the manager with me," he said after Borussia Dortmund had snatched a late 1-1 draw. "He is normally shouting in my ear. Did I like it? No. It has never been one of my ambitions to be manager of a football club. It is too stressful for me. Mr. Wenger's the boss and he's better at it than me. I'm just good at backing him up."
This is the reaction all managers would like from their No 2 because the first quality they need is loyalty. It is why a shadow always hangs over an assistant who steps up to replace a sacked manager, especially if the No 2 owed that job to his fired boss.
Of current Premier League managers, Blackburn's Steve Kean, Harry Redknapp (when at West Ham), David Moyes (at Preston), Martin Jol (at Tottenham) Tony Pulis (at Bournemouth), Roy Hodgson (at Bristol City) are among those who have stepped up from No 2 to take a job. If their ambition is understandable not all have maintained warm relations with the man they replaced. Of current No 2s Eric Black, Robbie Di Matteo, David Platt and Mick Jones have been managers. Some may harbour ambitions of regaining the hot seat, others may feel, "never again".
Jones is in the latter camp. At Plymouth, in 1997, as now at Queen's Park Rangers, he was assistant manager to Neil Warnock. The pair had begun working together at Notts County in 1989. When Warnock was fired, his relationship with the chairman having broken down, Jones accepted the job. Warnock was unimpressed and for years the pair did not speak. Then Warnock remembered a conversation he had with Brian Clough about Peter Taylor.
Clough and Taylor were management's most famous partnership, one immortalised by a statue of the pair at Pride Park. From humble beginnings at Hartlepool they won league titles at Derby County and Nottingham Forest and two European Cups at the latter. Taylor was the planner and talent scout, Clough the match-day man. Brilliant together they were less successful apart. The first time they split Clough foundered at Leeds without Taylor to rein him in. The second time, when Taylor left Forest to manage Derby, led to a frost between them that remained when Taylor died in 1990. Clough confided to Warnock that he wished he'd picked up the phone. In 2005 Warnock called Jones. They have been together ever since, through promotion and relegation at Sheffield United, administration at Crystal Palace, and promotion at QPR.
"Some are made for management, and some are not," said Jones, "I'm not. All the pressure and responsibility is on the manager. The coach just does a job. I felt sorry for Martin Johnson [after the England rugby team's dwarf-racing affair]. He was facing a barrage of difficult questions. He dealt with them well, but it was his responsibility to face them. The manager is responsible for everything."
Team selection is the obvious example. Jones added: "I remember talking to Sir Alex Ferguson. He was speaking about a No 2 and he said 'he can't make a decision to save his life when it comes to picking a team'."
While Warnock prowls the touchline, berating referees and players, Jones, like many a No 2, watches from the stand communicating tactical advice by mobile phone. He said: "I enjoy watching it from upstairs, the bench is a lunatic asylum."
It is not hard to see why managers get stressed on the touchline. Dean Smith, in his first management job at Walsall having been assistant manager to Martin Ling at Leyton Orient, said: "The biggest difference is the pressure. As a No 1 you send the team out to win, it is your team, your tactics. The No 2 coaches, helps and advises, but does not have that pressure to get a result when it is your neck on the line."
In his autobiography Ferguson noted that one key aspect a manager faced which an assistant did not was "the constant demand for hard, often unpopular decisions". That is most obviously the case in deciding when a successful player no longer justifies his place in the team. If, as seems possible, Andre Villas-Boas has decided Frank Lampard is no longer an automatic selection at Chelsea that is a big decision with major ramifications.
Smith, talking about his own club, said: "You always have a best team in your head, but there will be players pressing and it is judging when to put them in, and when to take someone out. You speak to your staff, but then you have to go your own way."
Smith, who is currently seeking an assistant manager, added more generally: "A good No 2 is a sounding board, someone you can bounce ideas off. He has to have an opinion [as Jones noted, "A No 2 can't be a "yes man"]. You may want him to be your coach, if so he needs to be a good one. And he has to be someone you trust."
There is that demand for "trust" again. Wenger has had a lot of advice recently suggesting he appoint someone like Marin Keown as a defensive coach but he clearly trusts Rice, having persuaded the Northern Irishman to postpone his retirement last summer. What makes this notable is that Wenger inherited Rice, an Arsenal stalwart for more than 40 years. Coach Boro Primorac is the sidekick he brought with him from Japan.
Michael Appleton, at West Bromwich, was also inherited but most current Premier League No 2s either came with the manager, or have been appointed by him. Do some of them have the ability to step up should the chance arise? You can never tell. Malcolm Allison was the Sixties' most celebrated No 2, a gifted and ambitious coach to Joe Mercer at Manchester City. But when he became No 1 it went spectacularly wrong without the elder man's restraint. At Liverpool Bob Paisley was a quiet man, the former physio who was barely noticed in Bill Shankly's shadow. He took over with reluctance, yet became one of the game's successful managers.
The super-assistants: Three who excelled at No 2
John Gorman A defender of middling success with the likes of Carlisle, Tampa Bay Rowdies and Tottenham, where he became friends with Glenn Hoddle, the 62-year-old is perhaps best known for his work as a caretaker manager. Made Hoddle's assistant at Swindon in 1993 before taking over when Hoddle left for Chelsea. Became his No 2 again with England in 1996 and had similar roles at Southampton and Tottenham under Hoddle. Has also worked as assistant at Gillingham, QPR and is presently No 2 to Karl Robinson at MK Dons.
Brian Kidd A prolific forward, Kidd made over 200 appearances for Manchester United, scoring in their 1968 European Cup win, and also represented neighbours City and Arsenal amongst others. Minor managerial posts at Barrow and Preston preceded a return to Old Trafford as youth coach (1988-91) and then assistant to Alex Ferguson (1991-98). Together they won four league titles, two FA Cups and one League Cup. He left to manage Blackburn and has also worked at Leeds and England. Returned to City in 2009 and is now working with Roberto Mancini.
Carlos Queiroz The 58-year-old Portuguese ran the national Under-20 side before taking charge of the full team in 1991. Spells with clubs sides in Portugal, the US, Japan, the UAE and South Africa preceded a first spell as assistant to Ferguson at United in 2002-03, when they won the Premier League. Left for Real Madrid in 2003 but returned a year later for a further four-year spell with Ferguson – winning the League title and Champions League. Next led Portugal to last year's World Cup, and is currently manager of Iran.
Olympiakos have a horrendous record on English soil, losing nine matches and scoring just one goal:
24 Nov 1965 v West Ham; lost 4-0
25 Oct 1972 v Tottenham; lost 4-0
7 Dec 2000 v Liverpool; lost 2-0
23 Oct 2001 v Man United; lost 3-0
1 Oct 2002 v Man United; lost 4-0
8 Dec 2004 v Liverpool; lost 3-1
16 March 2005 v Newcastle; lost 4-0
5 March 2008 v Chelsea; lost 3-0
29 Sept 2009 v Arsenal; lost 2-0Reuse content