Wenger refuses to play ball over sporting director
Defiant Arsenal manager says no to change of structure which could dilute his influence
Arsene Wenger has placed himself on a collision course with some senior Arsenal directors by delivering an ultimatum that he will only remain manager if he retains control over all sporting decisions.
Arsenal have been actively assessing options for a new director of football or sporting director position, but the Frenchman ridiculed the role yesterday and was adamant that he will not fundamentally alter how he works.
Asked about the club appointing a director of football figure, Wenger said: "No. I don't know what director of football means. Is it somebody who stands in the road and directs play right and left? I don't understand and I never did understand what it means."
It was then put to him that there might be some restructuring. "No, no, no," he said. "Sorry, no. I'm not prepared to talk about that. I'm the manager of Arsenal Football Club and as long as I'm manager of Arsenal Football Club, I will decide what happens on the technical front. That's it."
The idea that change would necessarily amount to progress was also emphatically rejected. "Progression or regression?" said Wenger. "Changes can go both ways. It is a question of teamwork inside the club.
"Some coaches are only interested in managing the team and they are happy with it. I am not like that, and I cannot change myself now. I can change by trying to get better, but the personality? I have 40 years of experience at the top, top level. I think I have a good knowledge of the game. You want to create a problem that I can't see. I am who I am. That is it."
Wenger's stance places a question mark over his previously strong working relationship with chief executive Ivan Gazidis, who told fan groups in April that this summer should be a "catalyst for change" at the club.
There were limited details as to the specifics of that actual change, but Gazidis has been an advocate of using data to inform decisions and also the need for cutting-edge practices around sports science and recruitment.
Given the divide among fans about the prospect of Wenger staying next season, there has also been a strong suspicion that, even for reasons of public consumption and presentation, any new contract announcement would be accompanied by changes in Arsenal's operations. Both Gazidis and Wenger are still liaising closely together on a day-to-day basis and speaking regularly about their plans for the summer and beyond.
The time-scale on any future sporting director was never defined and, while it did signal a desire both to review how the club worked and prepare potentially for Wenger's exit, there was a theory that a new appointment could work either with the Frenchman towards a transition or lead to a complete overhaul if he does leave.
Wenger, though, is clearly not ready to accept any dilution in his decision-making power. While every indication now is of considerable distance between the respective visions for Arsenal of Wenger and Gazidis, the bottom line is that the ultimate decision on how the club opts to move forward will rest with majority owner Stan Kroenke. Put simply, he must decide whether to accept at least two more years of Wenger amid limited change in the overall organisation of the club, or task Gazidis both with funding a new manager and implementing a different structure.
Wenger has so far indicated that he wants to stay as Arsenal manager next season, with the club having responded by saying that the decision must be "mutual". Final decisions are unlikely before the end of the season, particularly with Arsenal still able to finish in the top four and preparing for Wenger's attempt to set a managerial record of seven FA Cup wins.
In explaining his absolute certainty that the manager should make the decisions, Wenger added: "Who do you blame when it does not work here? I am blamed. I am blamed for decisions I have not made. It is tough enough to be blamed for decisions you have made. It is difficult to imagine that somebody signs a player that the manager does not know. It never happened to me.
"For me, it is like if you write an article in the newspaper and somebody else signs for you. Maybe the time will come where the football manager will not be a football specialist any more and that we have enough computers around him to analyse the game.
Arsenal play at Southampton tonight, when they are facing the prospect of being without captain Laurent Koscielny due to a calf injury. They realistically must win to keep open their chance of a 22nd straight top-four finish under Wenger, although he does not expect the club's transfer planning to be significantly impacted by whether or not they do qualify for the Champions League.
"Financially or negotiation-wise, it will not have a huge impact, but we want to play with the best and against the best, and that's the Champions League," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)