Sunday 25 February 2018

Wenger: I will manage next season, here or elsewhere


Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire.

Ben Rumsby

Arsene Wenger paved the way for his departure from Arsenal for the first time yesterday after announcing plans to manage elsewhere if he quits this summer.

Wenger  alerted clubs and countries across the globe - including Barcelona - to his potential availability by revealing he was ready to take his first new job for more than 20 years and had no intention of retiring.

Confirming he would decide on his future in March or April, he said: "No matter what happens, I will manage next season, whether it's here or somewhere else. That's absolutely for sure."

So unequivocal was the 67-year-old that you wondered whether he already had an offer - other than that still in play from Arsenal - on the table.

Whatever the answer, his surprise revelation changed the nature of the debate over his future from one about whether he would succumb to ever-increasing pressure to quit Arsenal to one about where he would go if he did.

Barca and Paris St-Germain - both of whom Wenger has been linked with in the past - are the obvious destinations, with the managers of both clinging on to their jobs.

Before they met in the Champions League on Tuesday night, it was PSG boss Unai Emery who looked doomed but their shock 4-0 thrashing of Luis Enrique's side meant there is almost certain to be a vacancy at the Nou Camp this summer.

Until yesterday, Wenger's name had not been in the frame but Barca have tried to poach him before and may be unable to resist finding out whether his philosophy dovetails as perfectly with their own as many believe. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Fallen Italian giants AC and Inter Milan are two other potential suitors for the urbane Frenchman, who would doubtless also be a target for rival Premier League teams, as well as clubs and countries across the Middle and Far East.

The England job appears a non-starter following Gareth Southgate’s appointment that will surely only be terminated in the unlikely event they fail to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

It would be ironic if Barca’s Champions League humiliation paved the way for Wenger’s arrival, given it was Arsenal’s 5-1 defeat at Bayern Munich 24 hours later that provoked the latest calls for him to stand down.Amid unprecedented supporter unrest over what is destined to be the club’s seventh successive last-16 exit in Europe’s elite club competition, Wenger said there had never been any prospect of him walking away before the end of the season.

“You do not stay somewhere for 20 years to then walk out after a defeat like that,” he said. “It is difficult to take, but I have the strength and experience to respond to that.”

Angry Arsenal fans fought among themselves at the Allianz Arena but Wenger denied reports the brawling had extended to the away dressing room.

“There was no incident in the dressing room, apart from a huge sadness and disappointment,” he said while fielding a succession of questions about what the result meant for his own future.

“That is an eternal debate when you are somewhere for a long time and you have a big disappointment. Even if I go, Arsenal will not win every single game in the future. You have to accept that, as much as it hurts to lose games.”

The former Monaco manager added: “If you look at the history of Arsenal, Arsenal had less Champions League games when I arrived than I had in my career already, and since then we have done a few, so I hope in the future we can win this trophy, or Arsenal can win this trophy.

“But it is not like I arrived Arsenal had already won the European Cup five times - they had never won the European Cup. They played maybe 10 games in the history of the club, so you have to take into perspective some demands.”

Despite his bullishness, and having raised the prospect of him managing elsewhere, Wenger did the same when it came to who would be in charge of Arsenal next season.

“I think what is important is that the club makes the right decision for the future,” he said. “I do not work here for 20 years not to care about this club, because I had many opportunities to go somewhere else during that period and I care about this club and I care about its future.“It is very important that the club is always in safe hands, whether that is me or someone else, which I am sure it will be.”

For now, Arsenal remain in the hands of Wenger, starting with Monday night’s FA Cup fifth-round tie at Sutton United, against whom defeat is unthinkable. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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