Saturday 29 April 2017

Arsene Wenger: I will not stop coaching because retirement equals death

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has yet to announce whether he will sign a new deal with the club
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has yet to announce whether he will sign a new deal with the club

Declan Taylor and Mike Whalley

Arsène Wenger has no intention of drawing a line under his management career this summer because, for him, “retirement equals death”.

The Arsenal manager’s future is shrouded in doubt, with his contract at the north London club up at the end of the season and no announcement about an extension yet made.

This season has represented the most turbulent period of his 20 years at the club, with his side’s on-pitch failings resulting in widespread fan anger and even protests.

Arsenal have not won the Premier League title since 2004 and have spent most of this season well off the pace, with Chelsea and their new manager, Antonio Conte, running away with it.

At 67, it has been suggested that Wenger may decide to walk away from Arsenal and management all together. But when asked whether that is an option for him, his response was unequivocal.

“I will not retire,” he said. “Retiring is for young people. For old people retirement is dying.”

The intonation is particularly pertinent given that Sunday’s visitors, Manchester City, are managed by Pep Guardiola. Earlier this season, the 45-year-old Spaniard had hinted at early retirement by saying he felt like he is already coming to the end of his managerial lifespan. But Wenger, whose side are outside the top four and seven points behind City, says his desire to manage the club has not faded over the past two decades.

“Of course I’m as hungry as I was when I arrived,” he said. “I carry a bit more pressure on my shoulders than 20 years ago but the hunger is exactly the same.

“When you see what the club was then and what it is today... when I arrived there were 70 people working for the club, we are 700 today. One share was £400, it's £18,000 today. And I’ll tell you straight away, I don’t have any shares.”

Given the toxic atmosphere currently surrounding the club, a visit from one of the Premier League’s best teams and a direct rival for the top four could be daunting for Wenger.

But he said: “Fear? No. My next game is about hope and desire. I hate defeat.

“I’ve been in this job for 34 years and I’ve never met somebody who told me, ‘You can afford to lose on Sunday’. You can never afford to lose and you’re never in that mode, even if it’s a pre-season friendly.

“In your mind you can never afford to lose, you’re always very focused on winning the next game. I hate defeat. I can understand the fans that are unhappy with every defeat, but the only way to have victory is to stick together with the fans and give absolutely everything until the end of the season. That’s all we can do.”

Meanwhile, Guardiola has claimed that regular European football is more important than the Premier League to ensure that young English talent such as Raheem Sterling and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain reaches its full potential.

The Manchester City manager is of the view that it is only by playing regularly at major continental stadiums such as the Nou Camp, the Bernabeu and the Allianz Arena that England’s best young players can develop the right mental attitude to win major tournaments.

Guardiola has indicated a belief that players such as Sterling, Oxlade-Chamberlain, John Stones and Dele Alli are as good as any developing players anywhere in the world.

However, the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach has hinted that the Premier League needs to be more flexible with its schedule in order to give those players the chance to progress as far in the Champions League as possible.

Sterling and Stones are set to line up against Oxlade-Chamberlain on Sunday. As far as Guardiola is concerned, all three can help England end the long wait for major international success that Spain endured before winning Euro 2008, a triumph that came 44 years after their last significant trophy.

He said: “From my experience in Spain and Germany and now here, you cannot imagine how good the young players here are.

“But then I could not imagine how the generation of Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes, John Terry, Steven Gerrard and Rio Ferdinand were not able to do something more. As a spectator, I don’t understand.

“For example, compare it with Spain, who always talk about the generation of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets. They are top players. But those players I mentioned before are of the same level.

“Kyle Walker, Dele Alli, Eric Dier, John Stones, Raheem Sterling, they are top. From my point of view the quality is there, and they have the quality at Under-19 and Under-21 level, too.

“But it’s what you have to do to help that quality for the national team. Maybe they have to focus more on the European competitions so the guys can handle the important stages of the big competitions, and then go to the national team and play Germany, Italy, Spain, and not have a problem.

“The talent is there, I have no doubts about that. They need to make that step. Spain was the same, too. In my time we were always quarter-finals, quarter-finals, quarter-finals.

“But players started to go abroad, Alonso went to Liverpool and Cesc Fabregas went to Arsenal and bang, semi-finals, finals, win, win, win.

“It’s the same with Manchester City, a bit, in the Champions League. When you arrive in Europe you need time. But I think the quality like City have now is there and the England players can do it.”

Guardiola echoed past complaints from Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho and his most successful predecessor Sir Alex Ferguson about the demands placed by the English domestic fixture list on teams in European competition.

“I have heard complaints in the past from Sir Alex, Jose Mourinho and a lot of players about the schedule being so complicated, but it is what it is,” he said. “You can only answer what you see and what you believe. At the end, the federations have to decide what they do. But my humble advice is try to enjoy the European competitions because it’s fun, really fun.”

Guardiola believes City’s failure to mount a serious title challenge in his first season in England can be put down to a lack of ruthlessness in front of goal, suggesting that his players have too often been unable to see off opponents when dominating games.

“In the boxes, we were not good enough,” he said. “We have to improve for next year if we are to compete with the good teams in Europe.”

Asked if he thought that securing Champions League qualification for next season would be as great an achievement as winning a trophy, Guardiola added: “Here, yes. Definitely.”

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