If Rice retirement rumours are true, who should replace him at Arsenal?

By Graham McNorthbank

There's an old joke that when Arsene Wenger first arrived at Arsenal, the reason he appointed his assistant manager was the mistaken belief that Pat Rice was French - Patrice, geddit?!

However, as the former Northen Irish international himself has admitted, although very few people at the club had even heard of Wenger, Le Prof knew exactly who everyone at the club was, their role and all the histories of the players.

About 18 months ago stories started appearing in the mainstream press that Rice was going to retire and while those rumours turned out to be false, it appears to be a quiet news week again because they're back.

It should be noted that Rice, aged 61, is only seven months older than Le Gaffer, so it's not as if he's past it, but for the sake of hearing who you lot think might be the candidates to become Wenger's assistant - and more importantly, a successor to the manager when he eventually decides to move on - then let's consider there might be an element of truth to the Rice retiral speculation.

One of the unsung heroes at Arsenal is first team coach Boro Primorac, a Bosnian coach who turns 56 on Saturday and who club insiders swear is actually Wenger's right hand man, having worked with Le Prof since his days at Grampus Eight in Japan. Indeed, with the ability to speak eight languages, perhaps it's Primorac who should truly have the Professor tag.

But the fact that Primorac stays out of the limelight speaks volumes, so I can't see him stepping forward to become assistant gaffer should Rice depart.

Also within the current ranks at the Gunners are reserves coach Neil Banfield (48) and youth team boss Steve Bould (48). I'm not dissing Arsenal legend Liam Brady (54), but given his health problems and his decision to step back from first team management, I think we could discount him stepping up to the task.

Talking of former Gunners, there are a bunch of legends I could see coming back to the club.

Tony Adams (44) is not one of them. He'll always be a hero for me and truly deserves the accolade of legend, but when it comes to coaching he's a couple of tactics short of a formation, if you get my meaning. There are some Gooners who'd love to see him managing Arsenal, but quite what they base that on, other than blind loyalty, is beyond me. His coaching career has been ropey to put it kindly. Adams for Arsenal? I think not.

Elsewhere, Thierry Henry (33) has always expressed his desire to return, but until his playing days are over that's not going to happen and who's to say what he will be like as a coach. Often the best players make the worst coaches (see example above), while it's the unsung players who become the most successful managers (a certain defender called Wenger springs to mind).

Dennis Bergkamp (41) is another who we'd all like to see back at Arsenal imparting his knowledge to the players and the fact he is taking his coaching qualifications is heartening. But unless he can overcome his phobia of flying, there's no chance he'll ever be given a prime job, because having a senior member of the backroom staff who would be unavailable for European travel is a real hindrance.

And then there's Patrick Vieira. He's another one that the whisperers are mentioning the word "retire" in connection with - speculation that the great man is not doing anything to refute.

Now I don't know where Vieira (34) stands with his coaching badges, but his tactical nouse has been applauded by Wenger in the past and his abilities as a leader can never be questioned. But again, who knows what he'd be like as a coach and Paddy himself has spoken about his wish to return to Africa to run his Diambars football institute in Senegal when he hangs up his boots, rather than go into management.

Obviously there are hundreds of other candidates who could come to Arsenal and we've spoken here before about maybe introducing some new coaches with fresh ideas to shake things up. And knowing Arsene Wenger, he'll have his own thoughts about who to bring in - no doubt someone we've never heard of.

But the bottom line for me is that I hope the rumours about Pat Rice retiring will prove false again. If he is looking to step back though, I can think of no better a club servant to be given an honourary place on the board, where maybe a former player's voice could add something to the mix.