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Sunday, July 16, 2006

Ex-QPR's Assistant Manager Bruce Rioch (now at Odense) Profiled in Today's Sunday Times

[No mention of his QPR 'experiences']

From Today's Sunday Times: Bruce almighty -
Douglas Alexander in Odense

Bruce Rioch has found a home from home in Denmark with the Intertoto Cup hopefuls

The script is a famous feature of Bruce Rioch’s coaching and it is being performed out on the idyllic setting of Fionia Park, home of Odense Boldklub. The sun illuminates the lush, green turf and the stadium, built in 1998, sparkles too. In sunglasses and shorts, Rioch is a teacher with an attentive team of pupils listening. He lines them up against imaginary opposition and runs them through some situations that will come up in the season that is about to start. This prescriptive, paternal style inspired his teams at Middlesbrough and Bolton to play attractive, passing football that still lingers in the minds of those fortunate enough see it.
Later, sitting in shade, Rioch emanates contentment. It becomes obvious as he chats that he values his players as people rather than pawns. He speaks with genuine affection about “my boys”, his current team, and recalls his former charges with great fondness, too. He rattles through the names of players at Middlesbrough and Bolton, several of whom he has stayed in touch with. Andy Walker, Owen Coyle, Mixu Paatelainen, Gary Pallister, Bernie Slaven, Stuart Ripley and many more. There is one that he lingers on. With their teams facing each other in the Intertoto Cup this week, Rioch dips into a vault of his mind labelled ‘Mogga’. It contains rich deposits.
“He’s an awesome man. A little story about him that I was telling my boys the other day. When we were at Middlesbrough, in the difficult days, we had a kit manager called Ken Smith who was about 70. The game would end and we’d come in and shower and change and before Tony went into the players’ room to see his girlfriend and family, he took Ken home in his car to his house and then came back. It seems a simple little thing but it is quite special he would take the time to think about the situation and take this guy home first. Those are the things that make someone special and he’s a really special guy. He’s been through tragedy too. I can remember when he lost his first wife (Bernadette) and at some stage afterwards I asked him to come to Bolton. He said, ‘I’d love to but I owe it to her family to be with them just now’. An incredible man.”
Rioch received a call from Mowbray last Saturday when he was preparing for the wedding of his son, Gregor. He sent the Rioch clan, clad in tartan, his best wishes but wondered if the father of the groom could pop a DVD of his team in action in the post after the festivities. “I was going to send him one of someone else,” jokes Rioch, but Mowbray knows the script so well, he could probably have spotted the difference.
Gregor has just returned to working with Manchester City’s youngsters after two years coaching another Danish club and his father followed him to Denmark last summer, taking over at Odense. In the city, two hours west of Copenhagen by train, he has found utopia. Superb facilities, receptive players and a board that he respects and trusts. “When I left Wigan I was keen to get back in for 18 months but then nothing materialised that suited me. I had a couple of offers but I wanted to go and work for the right people. I found out that was absolutely vital in my life and the right opportunity never came along until one of my old players at Norwich told me that this job might be vacant and would I be interested. I said I ’d come across and have a look and it was the people I met at the club that brought me here.”
The organisation around him is impressive. Allan Poulsen, the physio, works with Denmark’s international football teams, men and women, plus the national handball side and elite cyclists. The club’s youth system is superbly organised with sessions four afternoons a week at the training ground. “It’s a small country, 5.5 million population, so it’s not dissimilar to Scotland. The development of sports people over here, not just footballers, is absolutely incredible. They produce golfers, world-class badminton players, cyclists on the Tour de France. They’ve got a great sporting ethic.”
Rioch was on the shortlist for the Scotland job before Berti Vogts got it and was also in the running to take over at Aberdeen before Steve Paterson was appointed. His father came from the Granite City and his mother is from Skye, although Rioch was born in Aldershot as his dad was stationed there with the army at the time. Both David Taylor and Keith Wyness would probably revisit those decisions now and it seems impossible that Rioch did not impress at interview, given the way he comes across.
Positives pour from him, his enthusiasm for the game “refreshed” by his experience in Denmark. Last season, he managed Odense to third, their best finish in a decade, and now he hopes to take them closer to the big two — FC Copenhagen and Brondby. “It’s the equivalent of being manager of Hibs in Scotland,” he says.
He ranks his current group of players as good as anything he has worked with in terms of their attitude. “We’re not a big club but we try and develop the key things — team spirit, morale, atmosphere, loving each other, caring for each other. All the things we had at Middlesbrough and Bolton, we have them here. We said that to them when we first came in. ‘If you don’t care for each other, don’t look after each other then you won’ t be successful’. We have a super situation in this club in that respect. That’s what’s enjoyable. In all honesty, I wake up every day and I look forward to coming into work with them and I say to the players, ‘I want you to get up and come into work and enjoy it every day’. We know there’s a lot of occupations and professions which are hard, difficult, mundane ones and football is such a great job.
“I had an agreement to be reviewed at the end of the season, which it was, and I said I would like to stay another season. Everybody seems happy with that and I am happy with it. I am at a stage where I am not pushing too hard to chase too much at the moment. I am happy with my job, happy with my life and what comes along, comes along, but the most important single factor would be the people I work with and for. They are vital, they are my life. I have worked with some people that I wouldn’t want to work for again.”
There is only one drawback to Saturday’s visit to Easter Road for the second leg. It has forced him to turn down an invite to Dennis Bergkamp’s testimonial and the inauguration of Arsenal’s new Emirates stadium at Ashburton Grove. Rioch signed the Dutchman during his brief spell at Highbury between the eras of George Graham and Arsène Wenger. We will never know if he could have wrought the successful transformation the Frenchman has, but in bequeathing Bergkamp he set the tone of elegant skill which has defined it. “I think everybody wants to have longer at good clubs and Arsenal is a great club,” says Rioch.
So, too, in a smaller, maybe friendlier, way, is Odense.

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