Arsène Wenger has given Luiz Felipe Scolari a cautious welcome to the Premier League, although he pulled no punches on the new Chelsea manager's decision to announce his departure from the Portugal team midway through Euro 2008.
"It doesn't help," was the verdict from Wenger, who also insisted that Arsenal would be good enough to compete for the title next season "no matter who the players are".
With the Arsenal manager set to return next week from his busman's holiday at Euro 2008 to sort out the uncertain futures of Emmanuel Adebayor and Alexander Hleb, among others, he was bullish about the club's future. They do not face Chelsea until November and Wenger said that he had had a good relationship with Scolari. However, his comparison of the Brazilian's situation with that of Jacques Santini four years ago will not be judged the most flattering.
While manager of France, Santini announced before Euro 2004 that he would be leaving to take charge of Tottenham after the tournament. France were eliminated in the first knockout round and Santini lasted at Spurs only until that November. "It [the announcement] is difficult to measure but what is for sure is that it doesn't give something to the team, it only takes it away," Wenger said. "It doesn't help.
"We had that situation with Jacques Santini saying to Tottenham [he would join after Euro 2004]. The speculation was there. Then it starts, 'Who will be the next manager?' in the newspapers. And when it starts in the newspapers it starts in the players' camp. I like Scolari as a person and as a coach. He can bring something to the Premier League. You never know what will happen, but he is a quality man and manager.
"The system he plays looks similar to the 4-5-1/ 4-3-3 system that Chelsea play. Whether it is down to the fact that they have similar strikers, I don't know. There will be a change, because every manager brings his own personality and he will buy players, but the system won't change."
Wenger has been working on behalf of Castrol at Euro 2008, taking a detailed interest in their statistical analysis of the games. Having lavished praise on the likes of Michael Ballack and Andrei Arshavin, he joked that he "had no money" for players this summer. The Samir Nasri deal would appear to require Wenger's personal intervention to make it happen. But the man himself said that he was "calm" about Arsenal and the potential departures of Adebayor and Hleb.
"I know a lot has been written about us, but I am very calm," Wenger said. "Why? Because I don't know why I should be nervous. It's like when you take a penalty, if you are nervous it doesn't help. I will approach it with my usual calm. My biggest challenge is to make sure I have a competitive team next year no matter who it is."
There were no hints from Wenger on who he might buy, although he confessed to being impressed with the work rate of the Russia striker Roman Pavlyuchenko. With the Arsenal manager understood not to be interested in his Russia team-mate Arshavin on the basis of his age, it could be the man from Spartak Moscow who catches his eye. "Russia have a player in Pavlyuchenko who opens space for others," he said. "You think he won't go again and, yes, he goes again. He opens the door for other players and he does it extremely well."