44 years is a long time to be connected with one club, but this is how long Pat Rice was with Arsenal.
The Gunners' game against West Brom in Sunday afternoon will be his last before he goes into retirement.
He has been with the club as a trainee, a player, becoming captain for a time, and later as a coach – most recently he was assistant to the Emirates Stadium’s most successful ever manager.
It will be an emotional time for the club and seeing his replacement, Steve Bould, sitting beside Arsene Wenger in the dugout will likely take some getting used to.
Rice’s retirement is a major part of wider change that is currently happening at the club, which is seeing it move slightly away from the philosophy that was adopted with their move to the new stadium from Highbury.
The Gunners boss was obviously praising in his comments on the retirement of the man who has assisted him since he came to north London.
“It's difficult to measure his contribution, he has just been tremendous,” he said in the press conference announcing the news.
“It's sad because his life was linked with Arsenal and Arsenal was privileged to have him as a player, as a captain, as a coach.
“Personally of course I am very grateful for his contribution to my period here. I would like him to forgive me for the bad moments I have given him as well!
“He has been a constant, loyal supporter and I'm just very grateful and privileged to have had him at my side for such a long time.“
It will be difficult to predict the predict the impact that Bould may have by moving up from being Under-18s coach, but this could be the beginning of an era that sees many of Wenger’s former players coming back as coaches at the club.
Tony Adams was thought to be a candidate for the role, but Wenger eventually opted for the former captain's defensive partner.
Bould’s promotion could be the beginning of an era where former great Wenger players return to the club in a bid to bring back the glory days form the first half of the Frenchman’s reign at the club.
Sol Campbell recently retired and, after ruling himself out, claimed that another pair of the Gunners former stars would be keen to take up a role with the club – maybe even manage one day.
One of the famed ‘Invincibles’, Campbell suggested a fresh face amongst the coaching staff may not be a bad thing, but he made no mention Rice’s departure, though it was rumoured that he had considered retiring at the end of last season.
“All the best managers surround themselves with high-quality coaches and while Arsène has that in Pat Rice and Boro Primorac, it would not hinder him to add a fresh face,” he said in his Guardian column.
“Ideally one who understands and appreciates his methods and could reinforce them on the training ground.
“And who could do this better than a former player of his? I rule myself out as a contender for now and instead look to Patrick Vieira and Dennis Bergkamp, both of whom I know would love to be offered such a role.”
Wenger’s new assistant was a part of the squad that won the double in the manager’s second year in charge and spent ten years at the club as a player.
A criticism thrown at the current side is their defensive instability and Bould was known to be an intelligent, tough and positionally aware centre-half.
His defensive qualities may help him improve the current side’s tendency to switch off, because you cannot succeed in George Graham’s famous offside trap back line if you are not alert for 90 minutes.
Reserve team coach Neil Banfield has also been promoted to a first team role, which would add an extra member to the current squad, another indication that a more general change is being implemented by Wenger.
Other signals of this is transfer business being completed early ahead of the summer – Lukas Podolski is a confirmed signing and others expected before the beginning of Euro 2012.
The past season has been one of turmoil turned to redemption, but has slipped back into the realms of uncertainty with the club’s Champions League status for next in the balance ahead of the final day of the season on Sunday.
While it will be sad to see a familiar face leave the club, especially such a long serving one held in such high regard, but change was necessary if Arsenal were to come out of this rut of underachievement that has plagued them since they move to their shiny new home.
Grit has been missing from the side when facing high pressure and high stakes situations, so bringing back people who have competed and achieved some of the highest honours in the game should go some way to instilling such steel.
The departure of a man who has been at the club for 44 years is as big a sign of change as you can get – Arsenal fans will just be hoping it’s for the better.
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