Rioch takes on the challenge of Arsenal

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The Independent Online
FOOTBALL

BY PHIL SHAW

After the slow demise of George Graham and failure to land Bobby Robson, Arsenal yesterday ended months of uncertainty by prising Bruce Rioch from Bolton Wanderers to work in a redefined managerial role.

In a delayed reaction to the allegations that Graham amassed "gifts" of pounds 425,000 from a Scandinavian transfer-broker, Arsenal appointed Rioch on the understanding that the board will take over responsibility for negotiating transfers and salaries.

Explaining the change, the Arsenal chairman, Peter Hill-Wood said: "The manager will have no input into finance. His role at Arsenal is far too big, with too much to do. If we take some of the work away, he can concentrate on winning on the pitch.

"The board will deal with transfers, and contracts will be done by Ken Friar [managing director], although of course we won't do anything without the manager advising who he wants and what he's worth.

"At Arsenal we haven't changed for 50 years, whereas our business has grown 100 times in that period. The manager has had to deal with all the transfers and contracts as well as team matters and the media. We should have woken up to it long ago."

By agreeing a three-year deal with Arsenal, the out-of-contract Rioch disappointed newly promoted Bolton, who believed they had persuaded him to sign a new arrangement worth pounds 200,000 a year. The news also came as a blow, if not a surprise, to Stewart Houston, caretaker manager since Graham's dismissal in February.

The 47-year-old Rioch, who cited "professional and family reasons" for his move, is Arsenal's first "permanent" appointment since Graham succeeded Don Howe nine years ago. He is the first since Billy Wright in 1962 to have no connection with the club as an ex-player or member of the coaching staff.

The son of a regimental sergeant major in the Scots Guards, Rioch's clean- cut image and reputation as a disciplinarian no doubt attracted a club beset by a slump on the pitch and sleaze off it. Yet his success at Bolton, who reached the Premiership via the play-off final 11 days ago, was also based on a progressive playing style.

As a reformed sinner - he combined elegance and ruthlessness as a midfielder with Aston Villa, Derby and Everton - Rioch rails against the "fear factor" and the "hectic football" it produces. He traces his conversion to a period of reflection following his resignation as the player-manager of Torquay in 1984. He admitted attacking a player who "nutmegged" him in training, before leaving to sell insurance and coach in Seattle.

In tandem with Colin Todd, who is likely to remain at Burnden Park as his successor, he used two wingers and a ball-playing centre-back at Bolton. This positive approach brought two promotions in three seasons, plus a succession of big-name victims in cup ties - including Arsenal.

Pressed about Arsenal's extra-mural difficulties, which have involved the likes of Paul Merson and Ray Parlour, Rioch claimed he saw "situations rather than problems." He added: "No one asks for time in this game, and I'm certainly not going to, but we'll set out to achieve success as quickly as possible."

He declined to clarify whether "we" meant Todd coming or Houston staying. Meanwhile, Hill-Wood stressed that "substantial funds" were available, with Arsenal happy to spend pounds 7m on a player. Tony Adams, the captain, has ended the speculation surrounding his position by signing an extension to his contract until 2000.

Crystal Palace, who sacked Alan Smith last month, also announced a revamped management set-up yesterday. Steve Coppell, who resigned as manager two years ago, returns to the relegated club as technical director, with coaching and selection duties to be shared by Peter Nicholas and Ray Lewington.

Coppell said that his main role would be the acquisition of players, although his first task will be to persuade key personnel such as Chris Armstrong, Richard Shaw and Nigel Martyn to stay.

Palace issued a statement expressing their intention to emulate Ajax's youth policy and to abandon the methods with which they became associated during Coppell's first spell. "We wish to play football, as distinct from the long-ball game. Part of Steve's responsibility will be to ensure that all teams, throughout the club, put this as a priority."

Swedes beat England, page 38

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