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Wenger makes his point with customary elegance
“Highly intelligent” and “Arsene Wenger” sit neatly together in countless newspaper columns outlining the exploits, achievements and travails of the cerebral Arsenal manager.
Consequently there was no elaborate deconstruction required following an interview with a French television channel at the club’s training ground this week.
Wenger, who habitually brushes aside any question of his allegiance to the north London club, was asked his thoughts about yet another approach from Real Madrid if Florentino Perez returns as president.
“With Florentino Perez in charge, the project he has put forward would be interesting for any coach but I would prefer not to comment on this,” Wenger replied.
Wenger was fully aware that he had already commented. His response followed a sometimes acrimonious question-and-answer session with the Arsenal shareholders on the previous night and grumbling among fans who have been forced to absorb higher season ticket prices during a fourth consecutive season without a trophy.
The prospect of Wenger defecting to the Bernabeu after 13 years at Arsenal inspired an instant response in north London and one gratifying to the many supporters of a sensitive man committed to his vision of the beautiful game and convinced that style and success are not mutually exclusive. The group Redaction has mobilised a march of supporters for Sunday’s home match against Stoke and online petitions backing Wenger have been launched.
Wenger met Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis on Wednesday and was diplomacy personified afterwards. “There’s nothing to worry about,” he said. “I’m staying here. If that changes I will let you know, but don’t worry about that. It’s not an issue.”
To the majority of fans a semi-final spot in this season’s Champions League and fourth place in the Premier League, based on frequently brilliant if often brittle football, are no petty achievements. For the uncommitted, Arsenal in full flow are a reminder of the splendour which attracted them to sport in the first place.
The problem is the relentless pressure to succeed which distorts modern sport and has turned football clubs into franchises. Impatient chief executives believe pouring millions into their clubs should ensure success. The reality is more complex than a balance sheet.
If Wenger were to leave, Arsenal would lose a great and committed manager with a proven track record including two league and FA Cup doubles. His captain Cesc Fabregas may very well head to the exits along with a host of other carefully nurtured young talent. And where, then, would the club turn?
No man or manager is infallible. Frank McLintock, captain of the 1971 double-winning Arsenal side, alluded to a stubborn streak in Wenger and the lack of physical strength in the spine of the current team.
“If you do question his policy it can feel a bit like criticising the Pope,” McLintock wrote in the Guardian. “The team needs an immediate injection of power.”
A modern version of the rugged Scotland centre-half would be a start. It should not be beyond the wit of Wenger or the budget of Arsenal.
PHOTO: Arsenal’s manager Arsene Wenger watches during their English Premier League soccer match against Manchester United at Old Trafford in Manchester, May 16, 2009. REUTERS/Phil Noble