After months of speculation it was finally announced this week that Pat Rice would bring his 44 year association with the club to an end when he retires following the trip to face West Bromwich Albion on Sunday. The news that Steve Bould will be promoted from his current position as Arsenal’s under-18 coach to become Arsene Wenger’s assistant and that Neil Banfield would move from being in charge of the Reserves to also become part of the first-team coaching staff was also expected although, as yet, the club are yet to make a firm decision on who their respective replacements will be at reserve and youth level.
Firstly, though, it is worth reflecting on the pedigree that both Bould and Banfield have established during their time in the reserve and youth set-up. Bould, of course, was already revered by Gunners’ fans for his exploits for the club as a player, but he has continually developed his credentials as a coach since rejoining the club in 2001. Having previously taken charge of the under-16s, he was promoted to the under-18s for the 2005/06 season and, in the ensuing period, has garnered an impressive reputation in guiding Arsenal’s promising youngsters in furthering their careers. A standout highlight is the 2008/09 Premier Academy League and FA Youth Cup double winning campaign, whilst the former competition was also retained the following season. Last season was not as successful in terms of the side’s league standing as a team consisting almost entirely of first-team scholars struggled to adapt to Academy League life, but this campaign has had a more familiar feel about it, with Arsenal finishing third in their group.
Bould has never shied away from letting players, even schoolboys, know that they cannot shirk their responsibilities and a recurring theme of his tenure as under-18 coach has been his vehement half-time team-talks which have often brought out of the best of Arsenal’s young talent in the second halves of matches. Despite his reputation as a commanding centre-back, Arsenal’s defence at youth level in recent years could be described as porous at best, but, when working with experienced members of the first-team squad, perhaps with the exception of Sebastien Squillaci, the skills that Bould acquired during his playing days are likely to be put to good use.
Banfield, meanwhile, did not enjoy anything near the illustrious playing career that Bould did, turning out for Crystal Palace, Adelaide City and Leyton Orient, but as a coach he has developed a favourable relationship with the players that have come under his tutelage, with the training sessions of the man born in Poplar proving particularly popular. As with Bould, there have been peaks and troughs in terms of results during his time at the club, with a 6-1 loss to Reading in 2006 and a 10-1 reverse at the hands of Aston Villa last season springing to mind, but, on the whole, Banfield has proven to be successful with a firm but fair approach to proceedings and his close relationship with Arsene Wenger should stand him in good stead for the new challenges that he is to encounter.
As far as the implications that this will have on the Reserve and under-18 sides, all is currently unclear. There has been much talk that Bould and Banfield will be internally replaced, with one possible option being to promote Steve Gatting, another former Arsenal player, from his current position as coach of the under-16 side. Steve Morrow, currently in charge of Arsenal’s international partnerships, has also been touted in some quarters as a possible candidate for either post, although a firm decision has yet to be made by the club.
Whoever their replacements prove to be at reserve and youth level, Wenger can be certain that, in Banfield and Bould, he will be able to call upon two individuals who are well schooled with the way in which proceedings are run at the club and who will be able to add their own invaluable input when called upon. The fact that both have also worked with several members of the first-team squad in the past is a further plus point, suggesting that the revitalisation of the coaching staff is likely to have a positive impact next season.