Monday 11 December 2017

Arsene Wenger set to stay on as Arsenal manager after climbdown on working with a director of football

Frenchman hints he will work with a director of football - if role does not undermine him

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire

Jeremy Wilson

Arsène Wenger has paved the way to remain on Arsenal manager for another two seasons after indicating that he is now prepared to accept changes in the club's footballing structure.

Arsenal have been assessing candidates for a new off-field role and, while Wenger reacted dismissively to the idea of a 'director of football' title, he has been told that the position will not cut across his core first-team work.

Final details must still be mutually decided at a board meeting after next Saturday's FA Cup final against Chelsea, but there is growing confidence that agreement can be reached on a head of operations-sporting director role.

Not only is club owner Stan Kroenke adamant that he will not sell his stake to Alisher Usmanov, the second largest shareholder; his support for Wenger, albeit in a modified structure, still appears utterly solid.

Wenger was asked yesterday whether he would work with a 'director of football' and stressed that his problem would be with people choosing players for him.

"Director of football - when I say that - is a guy who makes the decisions that normally are down to the manager," he said.

Functioning

"That means selection of players, buying and all matters that concern the functioning of the team on a daily basis.

"Of course we can need help to become better. I am always open to open that. I am always open to things that improve the quality and the future of the club. After that, you have to see if it's really efficient because the titles do not always make you better."

Wenger's stance is markedly more positive than two weeks ago, even if his observation that most Premier League clubs have "too many" coaches underlines an ongoing degree of caution and scepticism.

The new role that is being envisaged would offer co-ordinated support across all off-field football operations, including analytics, scouting, sports science, youth development and even simply logistics, rather than shape actual day-to-day aspects of coaching or team selection.

A title has not been decided but comparable roles at other clubs have gone by the name head of recruitment, football director, head of operations as well as the more controversial sporting director or director of football descriptions.

This situation has become pivotal to deciding Wenger's future, with the Frenchman adamant both that he must retain control over football and that the departure of any of his core backroom team against his will would represent a red line.

Arsenal are looking at various different models and, while they are well aware that a structure like Southampton, where director Les Reed heads the long-term football planning, would be unacceptable to Wenger, they do want to evolve how they work.

In the longer-term, it also points to establishing someone who can work in more detail on the Wenger succession and perhaps grow the role for when a managerial change is eventually made.

Although Arsenal do not view the two hugely important remaining matches of the season as critical to their managerial decision, the results against Everton tomorrow and then Chelsea in the Cup final will shape the backdrop for what remain delicate talks.

Arsenal need to beat Everton and hope that Liverpool do not win against Middlesbrough to maintain the unbroken 20-year top-four record.

Wenger is adamant that his focus must now rest solely on the team over the final week of the season, meaning he remains genuinely unsure if tomorrow will be his final game at the Emirates Stadium he was so influential in building.

"I cannot tell you that," he said. "The most important for us is to win. After that, what happens to me is less important. I'm not here for personal glory."

Wenger then confirmed that there would be a board meeting after the Cup final and that he is expecting an announcement in the days that follow.

"There are many aspects of a football club which have to be discussed at a board meeting," said Wenger. "One of them is of course what is happening with the manager, the future, the players who have to come in, the renewal of contracts. You don't miss problems in a board meeting."

Wenger is adamant that the uncertain backdrop - and possibility that tomorrow just might be his 753rd and last Premier League - has not impacted on his thoughts.

"I am really on short-term," he said.

"After that, what happens, happens. I am capable to focus on what I think is important in life."

Around 15,000 ticket holders stayed away from last Tuesday's 2-0 win against Sunderland but Wenger was unimpressed at being asked about the atmosphere.

The Frenchman also dismissed Tony Adams' observations on his training ground style.

Writing in his new autobiography, Adams - who took over Granada in La Liga in April and has since overseen six consecutive defeats - said that Wenger "is essentially not a coach and could not coach his way out of a paper bag".

Hurt

Asked if he was hurt, Wenger said: "No. Who gives importance to that? I know him for a long time. It's sad."

Meanwhile, Russian billionaire Usmanov still appears to harbour hopes of taking control of Arsenal despite having had his £1billion bid for Kroenke's 67pc stake rejected.

The men have been at odds for a number of years over the direction of the club.

Usmanov has become increasingly concerned about a lack of investment by Kroenke and, in an interview with Bloomberg last month, said the blame for the club's performance should not rest solely with Wenger, but also with Kroenke and the board.

Arsenal stand to lose out on approximately £50m in revenue if they miss out on qualifying for the Champions League. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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