Arsenal have delivered their most resounding endorsement yet of the legacy and work of Arsène Wenger, with chief executive Ivan Gazidis predicting that the Frenchman will lead the club into an unprecedented new era of success.
In a wide-ranging interview with Telegraph Sport, Gazidis argued that Wenger’s “masterful” 16-year contribution had provided the foundations to cement Arsenal’s place alongside Manchester United, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Barcelona among the elite of world football.
Gazidis also said that Arsenal’s eventual succession-planning will be carefully managed to ensure that the club’s “DNA”, now so embodied by Wenger, would remain protected.
Wenger’s contract lasts until the end of next season but, with 2014 regarded as pivotal in the club’s future due to the renegotiation of major commercial partnerships, Gazidis outlined the board’s hope that the 62 year-old would continue in the long term. If Wenger was to agree a new contract, it would almost certainly commit him to more than 20 consecutive years at Arsenal.
“It’s not a sense of sentimentalism, not a reward for services, it’s a belief that we have an incredible manager who loves this club and is the best man to lead us forward,” Gazidis said.
“We’re really confident about the direction that the club is heading. I feel he can keep going for a long time. He’s in fantastic shape and he’s as driven as he’s ever been and excited as ever.
“He played in some staff games recently. When you put him out on the football field, he is still fit, quick and a good footballer. It’s fantastic to see his endless enthusiasm. I really have learnt from Arsène and the players learn from him as well.”
Of the eventual succession to Wenger, Gazidis said: “As a club, we have to make sure that all of the things that Arsène has brought to the club are enshrined in our DNA to make sure that, when Arsène decides it’s time, we are in a position to take his ideas and work forward.
“The values that Arsène has brought to the club together with the values that the club had before Arsène are what will inform us and give us the framework as to who might take over from him in the longer term. He is written into our DNA.”
Amid the recent backdrop of Arsenal’s failure to win a trophy since 2005 but consistency in finishing in the top four, Gazidis particularly praised Wenger’s bravery in making decisions that placed the club’s long-term well-being ahead of his own short-term popularity.
“We’re not dominated by fear,” he said. “Arsène never succumbs. We try to do more than win, we try to win with style. I know we haven’t won trophies in recent years. There’s no one here that doesn’t feel the pain of not being able to do that.
“We’re very optimistic about this season. We’re absolutely trying to win silverware and we’re trying desperately hard to do it this year.”
Gazidis’s optimism, however, does follow a second successive summer of off-field turbulence. After the loss last year of Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Gaël Clichy, Robin van Persie and Alex Song have been sold during this most recent transfer window.
Van Persie and Alisher Usmanov, Arsenal’s second largest shareholder, have also publicly questioned the club’s strategy in recent months. Gazidis, though, responds by noting how Arsenal have regularly outperformed rivals with deeper pockets.
“We can get into extensive debate about individual decisions - and like all clubs we are not perfect - but the ultimate arbiter of whether you are spending your money efficiently is where did you finish in the Premier League versus your overall spending,” he said.
“When you look at what Arsene has done, within the overall constraints, he has outperformed our spending every single year he has been manager. It is extraordinary.”
With Arsenal now established at the Emirates, the next major step forward should arrive in two years’ time when the club will no longer be committed to commercial deals that were made in 2004.
“In terms of the financial impact, it will be as significant a step forward as the stadium was in 2005,” Gazidis said. “It does kick us into the top five clubs in the world with separation from the rest. The overall journey that the club embarked on was to make it one of the leading clubs in the world and to do it in a way that would be sustainable.
“We get accused of a lack of ambition or complacency because apparently the board are only interested in the top four. That is absolute rubbish. To me this is the most ambitious football club I know.”
Gazidis is also increasingly confident that Uefa’s ‘break-even’ principles of financial fair play will genuinely be implemented. “I think there is a perception that Michel Platini devised an evil plan in his bath to go after English football,” Gazidis said.
“That’s just simply not the case. They are not rules coming down on high, they are actually rules the clubs themselves developed in conjunction with Uefa. We are seeing very serious discussions within the Premier League about introducing these regulations. It’s going to happen and it is happening faster than people realise.”
Jeremy Wilson, Telegraph.co.uk