Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has spoken about his meeting with Manchester United chief executive Martin Edwards, as he discussed the prospect of succeeding Alex Ferguson as United manager in 2002.
Wenger will lead Arsenal into battle against United at Old Trafford for a final time on Sunday, as he returns to the ground where his Gunners clinched the 2002 Premier League title.
Now Wenger has opened up on the talks he held with United shortly before that triumph, as Old Trafford chiefs started the process of finding a replacement for Ferguson after he confirmed he was ready to retire.
Ferguson reversed that decision to quit amid suggestions that Sven Goran Erikson had agreed to replace him at United, yet Wenger was also a leading contender to take over.
"Arsenal is the love of my life," he said.
"I turned many, many, many clubs down to face the challenge when we built the stadium."
"I speak to everybody, yes I met (former United chairman) Martin Edwards, many people came to see me but I was always loyal to this club."
Wenger also reflected on the quality of the United team he could have inherited from Ferguson, as he admitted his Arsenal teams faced a huge challenge to match Ferguson’s squad of serial winners.
"When I look back now I realise what a great team they had," said Wenger of United. "(Ryan) Giggs, (Paul) Scholes, as young players they had (Cristiano) Ronaldo and (Wayne) Rooney and you see what Ronaldo and Rooney went on to do in the rest of their careers.
"(Ruud) van Nistelrooy, all these players together - it was an unbelievable team and I think I realise more with a bit of distance what a challenge it was."
Wenger went on to suggest he is ready to end his battles with United boss Jose Mourinho on cordial terms, despite a decade and more of animosity between the duo.
"It has been, like with Ferguson, very tense like always when you fight together but overall it is respectful," add Wenger of his relationship with Mourinho.
"I must say as well it is very difficult when you play against fellow managers, they get reported things that you have not necessarily said.
"In press conferences, they say ‘Wenger said that’ even if it is taken out of context and you then get people who are upset or vice versa.
"It is very difficult to keep it calm and quiet, but over the distance the respect always takes over. Do you know why? We all suffer defeats, we all suffer disappointment and we all know that we suffer a lot.
"You always have respect for people who suffer, unless you are completely not human at all. You have to feel empathy for people who are in the same job as you.
"The rivalry between Alex Ferguson and myself was at a very high point and it was always very tense."