Wednesday 20 September 2017

Arsenal want Wenger for a third decade

Arsene Wenger is wanted to continue into a third decade for Arsenal
Arsene Wenger is wanted to continue into a third decade for Arsenal

Jeremy Wilson

Stan Kroenke is only five minutes into a near hour-long interview but any doubts over whether he wants Arsene Wenger to continue into an unprecedented third decade as Arsenal manager have already evaporated.

"There's no one I feel more strongly about and I think he is doing a great job," says Kroenke. "We have been very supportive, we have never wavered, we are proud of him, proud of the club, the way the club is run and how it holds itself out to the world."

Wenger is now in the final season of his three-year contract but, when asked whether the club's most successful manager remains central to his "long-term" Arsenal vision, Kroenke could not be more emphatic.

"That's exactly right," he says. "Arsene knows how we feel, what our philosophy is, what we want to do and I feel like we are totally aligned. I think he wants to do it the exact same way as we do."

There is a caveat, however. While Kroenke senses that Wenger's passion is undiminished for what he has called "the club of my life", he also knows that his manager is approaching 64 and has just endured the most challenging period of his 17-year tenure at Arsenal. Initial talks have been held and an offer will be made but Wenger has so far suggested that he still feels a need to prove himself again.

Optimism

Kroenke does not share that sentiment and, with the team having made such a good start to the season, there is optimism on both sides that a deal will be struck.

"Arsene is his own man, he will make up his own mind," says Kroenke. "There is a lot of pressure in the job, he has handled it very well but at some point we all make up our minds whether we continue in our careers.

"I don't want to say something about Arsene that is not the way he feels but, to me, I think he seems to love what he does.

"I had my son and a bunch of his friends at the training ground. We were standing out in the rain watching. It rained like hell. This was going on for several hours. I was getting worried about players getting hit by lightning and Arsene was out in the middle of it. He's out there coaching every day. You've got to love that or you can't do it. That's a passion."

Wenger (pictured) is already the longest-serving manager of a Premier League club by 14 years and, despite all the change that has gone on around him, retains full power over Arsenal's entire football operation. Kroenke does not want to alter that structure and also stresses that Arsenal's funds – their annual turnover will soon join Manchester United at over £300m – will be available for further signings of the magnitude of the £42m Mesut Ozil deal.

"I really enjoy Arsene – very smart, very intelligent," says Kroenke. "He has an absolute view on how he runs that team and the club. He has earned that right. Don't look for me to interfere with that. I have learnt over the years that sometimes owners try do that and it is not so good. We've always said that there are resources available. There are guys who say that we should push Arsene harder to spend... but Arsene is an independent thinker and planner.

"He works very hard at it and has a wonderful record. He was trained in economics."

Wenger has previously likened football to art and it is clear that he has found something of a kindred spirit. Kroenke even admits that the presence of Wenger, as well as the club's London location, infrastructure and business model, was fundamental in his decision to start buying Arsenal shares in 2007.

Indeed, having begun watching Arsenal closely when they won the Premier League/FA Cup double of 2002, Kroenke still regards it as "my big mistake" not to become involved sooner.

It all amounts to the most resounding possible endorsement but Kroenke still debunks the idea that the club – or indeed Wenger – are satisfied simply by regular top-four finishes. Arsenal lead the Premier League table and it is winning this competition that he craves above all others.

"There would be nothing more thrilling," says Kroenke. "I'm not getting any younger. It's something I would like to achieve. I've done it a couple of times in the US (in ice hockey, American football and Major League Soccer) and it was unbelievable.

"The idea that no one cares or is passionate about that sort of thing is just beyond the realms of imagination." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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