Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Managing expectations? Wenger's L'Equipe interview

News on the back pages today (apart from glowing reports of Ade*****'s brace for Sp*rs, which we'll ignore) is that Arsene Wenger has confirmed his commitment to Arsenal after the weekend's shenanigans. For anyone who missed it, the win over Norwich was somewhat overshadowed by increasingly hysterical media speculation about his future, thanks to a recent interview the manager gave with renowned French sporting gazette L'Equipe. In reality the interview itself was thoughtful, articulate and wide-ranging, covering many different aspects of Wenger's 15-year tenure at the club, but somewhat predictably the English papers seized upon a couple of short remarks in particular, in which the gaffer seemed to insinuate that his time with the Gunners was coming to a close:

L’Equipe: ...Will you embark on another long spell?

Wenger: No, as far as I am concerned, we are now talking pretty short term, that’s obvious. But whether it is with me or someone else, that changes nothing. The person that comes in after me will need foundations on which he can obtain success.

L’Equipe: Will you still be here in 15 years?

Wenger: No.

L’Equipe: And next season?

Wenger: We’ll look at things at the end of this one. I still have two years to run on my contract.
Admittedly, when taken out of context these comments do seem to hint that Wenger considers a chapter to be closing. At the same time, the few sentences above came from a 2,148-word piece which was itself written up from a lengthy one-and-a-half-hour interview. Nevertheless they sparked a flurry of pieces highlighting Wenger's apparent 'self-doubt' and 'soul-searching' at the start of the season, from papers including The Mirror and The Guardian. To quell such talk Wenger has reiterated today that he will stay for 'a few more years' and indeed, according to The Sun, 'as long as he can walk'.

The whole of the interview, which was conducted at London Colney two days after the Chelsea game, and published in France on Saturday, has been translated into English by @mattspiro for Arseblog news, so thanks are due to all involved. As most fans will know, Arseblog is probably the most popular Arsenal blog on the web, and rightly so, since it features a broad range of contributions from fans of all different sorts, while Matt Spiro is a great commentator on the game from a Gallic viewpoint (commentator in the analytical sense, rather than in the sense of chap-with-microphone-in-sheepskin-coat...)

You can read the piece here, and I would urge all Arsenal fans to do so. It gives a real insight into the manager, who comes across very well indeed. Perhaps liberated by the fact that he was speaking to L'Equipe, rather than to the more fanatical elements of the English media (who nevertheless did their best to spin a story anyway), Wenger reveals a very different side to the somewhat myopic persona ('I didn't see the incident') that he typically assumes in front of the MOTD camera, for example– or even when dealing with the Club's official organs like Arsenal Magazine.

His openness and honesty regarding such subjects as the loss of Cesc and Samir are disarming in their candour. Similarly, he talks frankly about the disappointments of last season, his own culpability in the way 2010/11 played out, and his expectations for this season and this team – which he admits must be considered the start of a 'new cycle'.

Neither does he deny the central role that he played in the 'long-term project' initiated after the Invincibles season, i.e. the construction of Emirates and the investment in a young team, but he is willing to admit that it has not produced the results that he – and all connected with the club – hoped for. Wenger remains fiercely defensive, however, about the merits of the club's self-sustaining ethos, which he again asserts is a 'viable model' that will let Arsenal 'sleep in peace'. Given that Manchester City are currently top of the Premier League table but have also just posted a record £194.9 million operating loss, this is clearly a salient point. Neither Arsene nor the Arsenal board will subscribe to the philosophy of 'success at any price', although for those who would accuse him of prioritising (fiscal) security over silverware, he states that he still dreams of winning the Champions League, and that he is still hugely driven – 'I remain addicted to the next match, like a drug'.

For all those reiterations of commitment, the interview ends on a valedictory note, as Wenger looks back on 15 season in charge – years which, he says, have gone by 'at the speed of light'. He considers the time he's had to have been a great luxury – not one that many managers are afforded, and given that is he now 62, not something he is likely to experience again in football, with Arsenal or any other club. He is rightly proud of what he has achieved with the Gunners, and whether fans lean to one or the other side of the AKB/AMG divide, no-one can deny that since he came from Japan as a relatively unknown Frenchman, way back in 1996, his personal investment in the club has been immense.

It seems inconceivable that Wenger will leave before the end of his contract, and he surely will not go of his own volition. It is equally unlikely that he will be forced out given the hegemony in the boardroom and the unstinting support for the boss from Ivan Gazidis and Stan Kroenke. Regardless of what happens between now and 2014 then, his legacy is secure, although as things start to look a little brighter for the side in the light of recent results, we can hope that his reputation is polished rather than tarnished by the new and current crop of players.

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