Tag Archives: Bruce Rioch

‘It was about getting to the Premier League, not the money’

As the 2016/17 season enters its final throes, clubs across the three EFL divisions will be desperately attempting to extend it by finishing in the promotion play-off places.

For the winners of the Championship play-off final, a place in the top flight awaits, along with the riches of the Premier League and the many commercial rewards that come with it.

Boro fans saw their team lose ‘the richest game in football’ in 2015 (Pic: Middlesbrough FC)

The Wembley spectacle is often laden with nerves, incident and drama, yet the game repeatedly carries the tasteless label as ‘the richest game in football’.

Modern-day football coverage and its heavily scripted PR machine will have us believe that the Premier League is every second tier club’s holy grail, not for the glory of sporting success, but rather the financial gain to be pocketed.

This has not always been the case. In 1995, Bruce Rioch guided Bolton Wanderers to the top tier via the play-offs, with a dramatic 4-3 extra-time victory over Reading.

Although there was money to be made from moving up a division, Rioch insists that achieving promotion was the only motivation for him and his club.

“It wasn’t financial. We didn’t look at the aspect of finance,” said Rioch.

“When I first went there, I didn’t have any money to spend so getting loan deals in and wheeling and dealing was how we did it until we had the cup runs.

Reading and Bolton take to the pitch at Wembley in 1995 (Pic: Planet Football)

“The cup runs generated some money from the games with Liverpool, Arsenal and so on, but we had to be very careful how we spent it and the type of players we bought.

“But we didn’t think of the play-off final as a cash fund as they do today, it was promotion and getting to the Premier League. Money wasn’t the motivator for us.

“The players obviously weren’t earning anywhere near the money today’s players earn, and the club wasn’t going to get the income that they do today.

“So it really was different. Everything was grounded and it wasn’t built around money, a totally different outlook.”

Plotting 

Whilst attitudes towards the one-off game may have changed since 1995, trends within it have not.

Late goals settled the outcome in 2014, 2013 and 2012, proving that the drama on the pitch is still very much a part of the play-offs.

Bolton’s victory in 1995 had been exhausting. Reading had finished second in the league that season, but had missed out on automatic promotion due to the Premier League’s downsizing to 20 teams from 22.

The Royals had raced into a first half lead through goals from Lee Nogan and Ady Williams. Stuart Lovell missed the chance to put Reading 3-0 up when his spot-kick was saved by Keith Branagan.

On the bench, Rioch stayed calm, plotting a way back into the game.

Uplifting

Recalling the day, the former Aston Villa midfielder said: “As the half-time whistle went, I walked across the pitch and I met the referee almost in the centre circle. I said to him ‘referee I’m going to make a change’.

Branagan saved Lovell’s penalty to stop Reading going 3-0 up (Pic: Get Reading)

“I used a bit of advice I’d had from my chief scout, Ian McNeil, who was previously a manager. He said to me: ‘You can never have too many strikers, collect them’.

“So I went with four strikers. That was John McGinley on the right, Owen Coyle and Fabian De Freitas up the middle and Mixu Paatelainen on the left; four goalscorers. I was thinking the opposite to what many think, in other words take a striker off and put another one on.

“And it was the strikers who scored the goals.”

Although the Trotters had not performed well during the first half, Rioch was calm and uplifting with his half-time instructions.

“I got into the dressing room and Alan Stubbs was sat with his head was on the floor. I just walked in and said to Stubbsy ‘get your head up, don’t you dare put your head on the floor, get it up’.

“I went round and said ‘Listen, we know if we get the next goal, we’re back in this game in a big way. So we’re going to go for the next goal, Neil [McDonald] I’m taking you off and Fabian [De Freitas] you’re on and we’re going to go 4-2-4’.

“And that really was the team talk.

“The team was confident. We’d got to the play-off final through getting good results and we’d been in the League Cup final (against Liverpool) so we were having a good season. It was just about getting their heads up again, waiting for the bell to go and saying ‘first goal’.

Dramatic fashion

De Freitas equalised with four minutes of normal time remaining (Pic: Bolton Wanderers FC.)

“We got the first goal back in the second half [through Coyle] and the momentum shifted, we were on a run then. There’s one of the goals in the game that started with the right-back Scott Green.

“There’s about six, one-touch passes that leads eventually to the cross for the goal. It was fantastic, I mean a classic goal and those types of goals lift your team and lift your players.”

De Freitas equalised with four minutes remaining before Paatelainen and de Freitas added further goals in extra time to complete a sensational turnaround in what had looked like a one-sided final.

Jimmy Quinn’s late reply for Reading came too late to trouble Bolton as they saw out the game to win 4-3.

Winning in such dramatic fashion was exhilarating for all involved with Bolton on the day, but the emotions felt by all inside the stadium did not go unnoticed by Rioch.

Euphoric

“There were two experiences that I learned from the play-off final that I’ll never forget”, said the man who led Middlesbrough to the top flight in 1987.

“One is the obvious one, coming from behind and winning the game. That euphoria for the team and the fans was enormous.

“But the other one that I’ll always remember would be, over 90 minutes and extra time, how a match can change the emotions of 100,000 people. 50,000 from Reading and 50,000 from Bolton.

“At half time, one end of Wembley was euphoric, which was Reading, absolutely euphoric 2-0 up going in at half-time. And the other end: dead.

“And within the space of an hour, the game had changed and one end instead of being euphoric was in agony and the other end was ecstatic.

“I’d known about it before but this was when it really hit home the impact football can have on people.

“I felt enormous pleasure for the Bolton fans, my board, my family, myself and the players.

“But I had a large degree of feeling for the Reading fans because I had never experienced it to that scale before. They’re the aspects of life that football can give you and it taught me a great deal on that occasion.”

Low-key celebrations

If a place in the Premier League today is worth hundreds of millions of pounds, one can only imagine the parties thrown by the victorious clubs.

Stuart Lovell is consoled after picking up his losers medal (Pic: Get Reading)

The Bolton celebration experience of 1995 was rather more low-key, however. Further proof that it really was the sporting triumph that mattered to all involved.

“We stopped on the way back after the game in St Albans at the hotel we’d stayed at,” smiled Rioch.

“We rang ahead and had some sandwiches organised, we had a couple of bottles of champagne in the hotel.

“Then the boys and their wives got back onto the buses and drove up to Bolton and I went home to Harpenden in Hertfordshire round the corner, because that’s where Jane (Rioch’s wife) lived.

“I had a flat up in Bolton but my home was in Harpenden, so I drove the 25 minutes home and had a Chinese takeaway and a cup of tea.”

‘Great feeling’

For Rioch, promotion to the Premier League signalled the end of his time in charge of the Burnden Park club, as a phone call from Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein asking him to take over from George Graham proved too inviting to turn down.

Having taken over the reigns in 1992 with the club in the second division, Rioch had taken the Trotters into the Premier League. And although relegation followed the very next season, the club would go on to become an established top-flight club and even experience European football.

With pride, Rioch reminisced: “[It was] a great feeling. The fan base went from 5,500 up to 25,000, so the fan base was always there.

“That’s why I went to the club, because I’d played at Bolton when I was at Everton in front of 50,00 people. So I knew there was a fan base and it was just a matter of getting results and getting them back to where they should be.

“The players, I had a fantastic relationship with them all, they were a brilliant group of lads and we worked hard with them on the training ground. I had a great staff and an absolutely magnificent chairman [Gordon Hargreaves]. The best.”

Feature Image courtesy of the BBC

Let Wenger choose when to step down, says Rioch

Arsene Wenger should be afforded the chance to decide for himself when he steps down as Arsenal manager, according to his predecessor, Bruce Rioch.

The under pressure Frenchman has faced increased hostility from Arsenal supporters unhappy at the club’s lack of domestic silverware or progress in Europe.

Arsenal fans are split over whether Wenger should stay (Pic: Sky Sports)

The well-documented ‘ArsenalFanTV’ has featured heavily on social media by calling for Wenger to walk away, and the campaign reached new heights when a minority of disgruntled supporters arranged for a plane to fly a banner overhead during Arsenal’s recent defeat at West Brom.

The banner read: “NO CONTRACT #WENGEROUT”. And although a second plane was flown over The Hawthorns with the message, “IN ARSENE WE TRUST #RESPECTAW”, the away end was awash with hand-held banners protesting for the ex-Monaco manager to call it a day.

Wenger himself has indicated that he will be mindful of the fans’ wishes when he makes a decision on his future at the end of the season, with a two-year contract offer on the table should he wish to continue his tenure in North London.

But former Gunners boss Rioch believes that Wenger’s contribution to his club and English football in general, should be remembered during these uncertain times.

“I think he’s earned the right, with the board of directors, to make the decision himself as to when he decides to step down”, said Rioch.

“I think he’s been outstanding as a manager in this country. 20 years, plus, at Arsenal, second only to Sir Alex Ferguson in longevity in recent years. He’s won three titles, the same as Mourinho and it’s not easy now to win the Premier League.

“His standing in the game is immense. He’s brought a style of play that, when they’re playing well, you sit and admire the way they’re playing.”

Ambition

A heavy criticism thrown at Wenger and Arsenal is that they rely too heavily on Champions League qualification as a marker for success. For the fans and world-class players such as Alexis Sanchez, a place in the top four is secondary to the quest for titles – something that Rioch sympathises with.

Wenger is mulling over whether to sign a new contract (Pic: Independent)

The ex-Championship-winning midfielder with Derby County continued: “If you’re in the top four every year for 20 years, that in itself is success because it’s Champions League football.

“But it’s not seen as total success necessarily by supporters, and going back to my days as a player, to get into the European Cup you had to finish first. Top four is about money and boosting the Champions League, which again, I think has spoilt it in many ways.”

With Sanchez reportedly unhappy with the club’s perceived lack of ambition, Wenger faces a battle to not only stave off the pressure from supporters but also to maintain a harmonious dressing room.

Having not won the title for 13 seasons, Arsenal have struggled to keep hold of their big players, with the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Robin Van Persie, Samir Nasri and Ashley Cole having all moved on to the Gunners’ rivals and won the Premier League.

Impact

According to Rioch, the uncertainty surrounding the manager’s position may continue to have a detrimental effect among the squad.

Can Arsenal hang on to Alexis Sanchez? (Pic: Independent)

“When Sir Alex made the announcement that he was going to leave Manchester United, the results of the team went down hill.

“He changed his mind and reversed it, and when he ended up winning the league, then he called it a day.

“I think what’s happening at the moment, unfortunately, and I’ve thought about it a lot, must have an impact in some way in the dressing room.

“And then you’ve got to work with those players to get the best out of them, they’ve got to be 100% clear every day when they go out onto that pitch and I think it can have an unsettling effect.”

The Arsenal board should be commended for standing firm in their beliefs that Wenger is the right man for their club. In modern day football where the average managerial shelf life is a little over 13 months, the 21 years that the 67 year-old has been in charge is unlikely to ever be repeated.

‘Great servant’

And whilst we may be witnessing the last few weeks of Wenger’s reign, Rioch believes that football fans should be careful in their demands for change.

Rioch took over as Arsenal manager in the summer of 1995 (Pic: FourFourTwo.com)

“I’ve had this saying,” said the ex-Scotland international. “It’s about footballers as well as managers.

“If we keep campaigning that they should be out of the team or out of the club as a manager, once they’re gone, you’ve lost them. You can never get them back so cherish them while you’ve got them.

“It’s a little bit like Wayne Rooney. You keep Rooney in there as long as you can because he’s been such a great servant to club and country. Don’t throw him out; don’t want him out too soon.

“Let the board of directors and Arsene Wenger decide when he’s going to go, he’s earned that right. He’ll go when he’s ready, he’s sensible enough, but once he’s gone he’s gone.”

Should Wenger make the announcement at the end of the season that he is to step down, the list of potential replacements will stretch around the globe.

British bosses

Dennis Bergkamp proved to be one of Arsenal’s greatest-ever signings. (Pic: BBC)

Rioch was not only the last manager of Arsenal before Wenger, but also the last British boss at the North London club, replacing George Graham after Stewart Houston’s caretaker spell in charger.

Having won promotion to the Premier League with Bolton Wanderers by winning the 1994/95 Division One play-off final, the man who called upon the experiences and advice of Bill Shankly in his early managerial days swapped Lancashire to be closer to his Hertfordshire home in the summer of 1995.

It is understood that Rioch beat another British manager in Bobby Robson to the job, yet in 2017 there are no British managers at the world’s elite clubs.

Despite having won promotion to the Premier League and then earned plaudits for their teams’ style of play, it seems nigh on impossible that Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe or Burnley’s Sean Dyche would ever be given the opportunity to take the reins at Arsenal.

Brendan Rodgers might be the only British option to step into Wenger’s shoes, given his transformation of Liverpool during the 2013/14 season which came so close to ending with a league winner’s medal.

Appearing to be comfortable and at ease in the hot seat of one of Europe’s most demanding clubs in Celtic, can surely only serve to further increase his credibility.

Pressure

Having made the jump from a mid-sized club to a ‘big’ one himself, Rioch is well placed to give his opinion on why we are unlikely to see a young, British manager in the Arsenal dugout.

Rioch added David Platt and Bergkamp to transform ‘boring’ Arsenal (Pic: Daily Mail)

“You’ve got to know that you can move from a club like Bolton, Middlesbrough, Southampton or Everton, and go to Manchester United or Arsenal, and the difference is immense. It’s huge.

“You have got to win. At some clubs you can be mid-table, even sixth or seven is fine, but at those clubs [United/Arsenal] you’ve got to win.

“So the pressure is there to win, and the players who play for those clubs know they’ve got to win and that’s why they’re there. There is a different mentality and you have to be of that mentality to go into that club.

“I can understand why Ancelotti, Pellegrini, Conte, are coming to England to come to the top clubs, because they’ve been winners in other countries in Europe and they’ve been brought up as players in big clubs.

“They’ve played for Juventus or AC Milan, they’ve had that aura around them all the time, it’s there every day when they’re playing. And then they become managers and the pressure is on all the time to get results, it’s an ongoing process.

“Then when you come into a big club [in England] you know it’s no different to where you’ve come from and you’re expected to win.

“Whereas if you’ve come from a club down the bottom end where mid-table’s been ok and you move to a big club, it’s a totally different ball game.

“The expectancy is enormous, that’s the difference.”

Jumping ship

When David Moyes made the switch from Everton to Manchester United to replace Ferguson in 2013, the similarities were not lost on Rioch as he thought back to his experiences of moving from Burnden Park to Highbury.

“I nearly rang him up to say ‘I did this, I should really tell you what the difference is. You might think you know the difference, but the difference is this…’,” said Rioch.

“I didn’t make the phone call because I thought well, he’s got enough experience he’ll know how to deal with it. But he didn’t deal with it and he wasn’t there long.

“That was my experience, you see, and I’m sad I didn’t make the call.

Wenger is the longest-serving manager in Britain (Pic: Arsenal.Com)

“He might have thought cheeky so-and-so and I didn’t think it would be right for me to do it, but looking back I wish I had.”

In modern football, we are quick to forget the good that someone has brought to a club. Fans and pundits will tear into a player or manager at the earliest opportunity for jumping ship, claiming the moral high ground over loyalty. Yet praising the hard work of a player or manager becomes much less attractive.

Are we really to assume that Wenger did not have opportunities to leave Arsenal when they were in a far worse state off the pitch than they are presently?

The stadium move from Highbury to the Emirates in 2006 decimated the playing budget, meaning that Arsenal went from Champions League finalists to a selling club, just to be able to scrape into the competition. This didn’t happen to Ferguson, Mourinho or Guardiola.

Wenger’s shrewd recruitment meant that he was well prepared for the sale of his best players, but there is no question that he would have preferred the budgets of Chelsea or the Manchester clubs. What manager wouldn’t?

Wheels in motion

We will never know the vast amounts of money he may have been offered to move elsewhere, only to turn it down in defiant loyalty to continue to help build the club into the global brand we see today. The easy option would have been to walk away.

The Gunners have always been a big club across Europe, “they were a major name, they had a presence. It was ‘The Arsenal’, of course,” confirms Rioch. But let us not forget another of their nicknames under George Graham’s tutelage was ‘boring, boring Arsenal’.

Rioch himself was not given the time needed to transform the style of play, but some may argue he put the wheels in motion with the signings of Dennis Bergkamp and David Platt.

But it was Wenger who brought with him not only attractive, attacking football that lead the way across Europe until Guardiola rolled into Barcelona in 2008, but also the professionalism to ensure that players looked after their bodies.

Arsenal fans want to see success in Europe rather than just qualification (Pic: Telegraph)

Tony Adams and Ray Parlour extended their careers for an extra year or two due to Wenger’s strict policies surrounding alcohol and diet.

For Rioch, having seen first hand during his time at Highbury that drinking vast amounts of alcohol was the norm amongst the players, Wenger’s intervention was essential.

“There was a drinking culture in the club and it was a big one”, said Rioch.

“A glass of wine every now and again I don’t have a problem with, but these guys will openly admit they were going way beyond that.

“I’ve listened to Tony Adams on Sky, and he admitted he was in one hell of a state on a regular basis.

“I met him down at Plymouth Argyle a few years ago at a game and he came across and actually apologized to me for his behavior when I was at Arsenal.

“He’s an incredible guy, a fantastic man. It was a cultural thing in this country, and I think it’s changed quite a bit over the years.

“But that’s sometimes the difficulty you have in a club. Longevity gives you the chance to change it, but when you’re short-term it doesn’t happen.”

With longevity comes the opportunity to bring about change, whilst a short-term approach may not. That should be remembered when discussing the future of one of British football’s most influential figures of all time.

Feature Image: Getty Images