When Arsenal.com told Pat Rice he had landed at No 17 in the Gunners' Greatest Players poll in 2008, his first reaction was one of shock. "I could run off 30-odd players who were better players than me," he gasped.
All of which means you can add modesty to the list of qualities Rice has exhibited throughout his long association with the Club. However, if you had to pick one attribute which made Rice the player he was, it was probably his thirst for sheer hard work.
|Arsenal Career||1964 - 1980|
|Appearances||528 (521 starts, 7 as a sub)|
Taken on as an apprentice in December 1964, Rice was probably not the most naturally talented 15-year-old on the Club's books. But few youngsters have striven so hard to realise their dream of playing for - not to mention captaining - the Arsenal.
Before long Rice timed his tackles better, could run faster and was a more accurate passer of the ball. Arsenal were impressed and, at the age of 18, he made his Arsenal debut in a League Cup win against Burnley.
At the time the right-back berth was occupied by Peter Storey but his positional switch to central midfield paved the way for Rice to stake his claim in defence. It was perfect timing - in Rice's first season, the 1970/71 campaign, Arsenal won the League and Cup Double.
That sweltering day at Wembley would be the first of five FA Cup Final appearances for Rice, a Club record he shares with David Seaman and Ray Parlour. Unfortunately, the victory over Liverpool would be one of just two triumphs.
Rice played in the defeat against Leeds in May 1972 and, as the Double side fragmented, he stuck around. It was just as well. Rice's character helped drag Arsenal away from the drop zone when relegation threatened in the mid-Seventies and, when World Cup winner Alan Ball left in 1977, he was the obvious choice as skipper.
Having learned from arch-motivator Frank McLintock, Rice captained Arsenal with authority and distinction, leading them to three successive FA Cup Finals from 1978 to 1980. He got his hands on the famous old trophy after an incredible 3-2 victory over Manchester United in 1979 but just missed out on continental success when Arsenal lost the European Cup Winners' Cup Final to Valencia after a penalty shoot-out in May 1980.
Rice left soon afterwards, having racked up 528 games (and 13 goals) for Arsenal. However, after a stint at Watford he returned to Highbury in July 1984 to assume a coaching role. After a brief spell as caretaker manager following Bruce Rioch's departure in 1996, Rice was appointed as assistant manager to Arsène Wenger. Forty-four years after arriving at the Club as a wide-eyed teenager, he is still giving everything to the Arsenal cause.
"It really and truthfully is great to be thought of so highly by the Arsenal fans and I hope that I will always have that rapport with them," said Rice. "When I joined the Club I never ever thought I would be at the Club for the number of years that I have so far. I hope that relationship continues."
The feeling appears to be mutual.