The son of a regimental Sergeant Major in the Scots Guards, Bruce Rioch was cut from a dramatically different type of cloth to his eventual Arsenal replacement Arsene Wenger.
The man who’s greatest contribution to the club, as history would dictate, would be the signing of Dennis Bergkamp, almost seems a baffling appointment in the age of the French manager. But who, what and why did Rioch ever come to be in charge of the North Londoners.
Born in Aldershot, Hampshire. After moving to Luton at the age of 14, Rioch would eventually go on to establish himself at Luton were he banged in an impressive 24 goals in the way to his side’s Fourth Division title win in 1968.
He would later become the most expensive second division players ever, joining Aston Villa for a fee of £100,000. There he won a League Cup runners up medal in 1971.
Moves to Derby County and Everton followed, until Rioch finally settled his career playing Stateside for the Seattle Sounders.
It would be at Torquay United that the Aldershot born Scotsman (as he would previously represent at international level) would begin to carve himself a more than decent managerial career, and a no nonsense one at that.
Stories of the man’s over-exuberant trading methods had become legendary. Various accounts by ex-players explain how Rioch would more often than not join in the mini games, with the younger players having their mettle tested with some intentionally tasty tackles afforded them by their very own gaffer.
A short spell with the Devon side led to another spell over the Atlantic with FC Seattle, until he finally sunk his managerial teeth into Middlesbrough.
Appointed as manager of Boro in February 1986, the militant former Luton midfielder quickly tasted his first success in management after guiding Middlesbrough to a runners-up spot in the Third Division, resulting in promotion to the Second.
An achievement made all the more astonishing by the fact that clubs owners and staff had recently been locked out of Ayresome Park by the official receiver, With Middlesbrough left on the cliff face of bankruptcy.
A year later, things got better still for the Teesiders as they picked up a second successive promotion, this time by claiming victory in the Second Division promotion/First Division relegation playoffs.
Whilst a Wembley date at the brilliantly named Zenith Data Systems Cup was to come, Rioch’s side fell by the wayside dramatically. Relegation followed and, with a further drop down to the Third division likely, Rioch was swiftly sacked.
That isn’t to say that many Teesiders were happy to see the back of him. After bringing through young local lads, turning them into a footballing force, Rioch would always be held in high esteem by the Middlesbrough faithful.
Similar could by said by those at Bolton Wanderers.
Gaining promotion to the First Division at the first attempt in 1992 (now a league under the newly formed ‘Premier League’), a 94/95 season Playoff victory for the Trotters meant that Rioch had reached the countries Premier division.
Rioch of course at this point heeded the call of Arsenal.
Having sacked their trophy laden previous manager George Graham for accepting a transfer related bung, Rioch was appointed the man in charge for the 95/96 season. It would be is only season at Highbury.
The Gunners had tasted recent Cup Winners Cup, FA Cup and League Cup success over the previous years. With a talented squad full of seasoned pro’s, it was little wonder that his intense managerial style would rub on some of the players.
One particular incident involved shrinking violet Ian Wright. Stopped mid training session, Rioch approached the Arsenal legend to tell him that he should look at the runs his former Bolton striker John McGinley. To tell a long story short, Wrighty took things the wrong way.
Added to the fact that he was selected to play on the left wing with marquee signing Bergkamp down the middle, the pairs relationship would become pretty toxic thereafter.
But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Whilst former gaffer Graham had initially implemented a fast attacking style in the late eighties, the North Londoners had been known for their ‘boring boring Arsenal’ tag of late. Previously choosing to pin their on the sides formidable back line of Adams, Bould, Winterburn and Dixon, Rioch at least introduced a more open attacking method of football.
Whilst it wouldn’t be vintage Wenger, a final Premier League finish of fifth (improving on the previous 12th) was certainly nothing for Arsenal fans to sniff at.
Alas it would still all end in tears for Rioch. A transfers disagreement with the Arsenal board led to his eventual sacking.
The Gunners of course would never look back as the slim librarian like figure of Arsene Wenger road into town.
QPR and beyond
After leaving Arsenal, the former Bolton and Middlesbrough manager worked as assistant manager under Stewart Houston (his former assistant at Arsenal) at Queens Park Rangers, however poor performances led to his sacking along with Houston after just over a year at Loftus Road.
Unsuccessful spells as Norwich, Wigan followed, along with appointments at Danish Clubs OB and Aalborg.
Whilst it undeniable that Rioch’s career had its downs, surely the former Scotland international deserves more than being known for his Arsenal failures.
And we don’t just mean the fact that he signed Dennis Bergkamp.
Although it’s not a bad footnote really is it?