Arsenal’s French manager Arsene Wenger/ AFP PHOTO / BEN STANSALL
Arsene Wenger has suggested that he took the momentous decision to leave Arsenal because he feared that the often angry disunity over his presence as manager was harming the club’s global image.
Speaking at length for the first time since announcing that he will stand down as Arsenal manager following 22 years, Wenger specifically highlighted the hurt he felt at how the sometimes frenzied debate among fans had reflected on what he calls the “club of my life”.Wenger also strongly hinted that, at 68, he is ready to continue in football management but that he doubted whether he could ever bring himself to lead another English club.
Asked whether he now felt relief that the end of his Arsenal career had been announced, Wenger said: “No, because I was not tired. I believe this club is respected all over the world, much more than in England. Our fans did not give the image of unity at the club I want all over the world. That was hurtful.”Asked to expand on what he meant, Wenger said: “I just feel that if my personality is in the way of what I think our club is, for me that is more important than me staying. I feel the club is respected and that is down to work, the way we play football, the way we behave and the way we treat people. Overall, the image we gave of our club is not what it is and not what I like.”
The debate over Wenger’s future has often been conducted furiously among Arsenal fans in recent years, whether on social media, YouTube videos or even in the stands.There have been banners, protests and even fights between Arsenal supporters during matches, as well as the recent swathes of empty seats. Wenger himself has even been personally abused on the street.
Arsenal have now already begin the process of appointing Wenger’s successor and, while the Frenchman said that he would have no say, he does believe that he has left solid foundations for success.“Every single decision I made during my 22 years was for the good of Arsenal and every single decision was made with the priority of doing well for the club,” he said.
“I believe I leave a club that is in a very good position. My target was always to do that and give continuity to the guy who comes in after me so we can be better in the next 20 years.”
Despite having worked continuously as a football manager since 1984, Wenger feels no need for a break but is unsure about another Premier League job.“That will certainly be emotionally difficult,” he said. “At the minute I speak to you I am too attached to this club. I wil never completely leave this club because I will always first look for Arsenal’s result and see how well the club develops.
“I will always be attached. It is difficult. I gave the best years of my life to this club. I arrived at 46 years old and I worked seven days a week for 22 years. You cannot on one side be completely committed and then walk away and nothing happens. I know that I face that challenge and it will be difficult for me, but I have had other difficult challenges in my life. I hope I will get through this one as well.”
Wenger also joked that he had felt this week like a witness to his own funeral amid the wall-to-wall tributes. He was, though, genuinely moved by the reaction. “I’m touched by all the praise I got from all of English football,” he said. “In England, football is special, the passion is special. I know I will not get that anywhere else in my life.
“I don’t need to die anymore – I know what people will say about me. That is quite interesting but, apart from a little sense of humour, I would like to thank everybody who has been nice to me. I got more praise than I deserved but sometimes more criticism than I deserved. It’s been difficult but, as well, fantastic.”