Wenger revels in 'freedom' to realise ideas at Arsenal
Arsène Wenger last night reflected on his 11 years at Arsenal, and his recent decision to extend his contract to 2011, and declared, "I don't want to work anywhere else."
Wenger said that even after the removal of his friend and confidant, David Dein, from the board, he decided to remain at Arsenal because, "I felt I had the freedom to work with my ideas and the support of the club and the fans. That is the biggest luxury in my job".
Such a philosophy would obviously rule out moving to a club with such unstable management as Real Madrid but even better administered clubs would only have a limited attraction for Wenger as he feels there are few clubs bigger than Arsenal. "Nearly everywhere I go in England I meet someone who says to me, 'I have supported Arsenal for 40, 50 years.' It happens almost every week. I did not realise how big a club Arsenal was when I arrived.
"The night I did was when we moved our Champions League matches to Wembley [in 1999]. I was used to 38,000 people watching us at Highbury. Then we played AIK Solna at Wembley and sold out. I thought, 'maybe people like Swedish football'. Then we sold out the next match, and the next one. That is when I realised how big Arsenal are."
It is a support, he noted, which is growing globally. "I travel a lot and I realise how many fans we have abroad. Maybe 20 per cent of our fans give us 80 per cent of our income because they are the domestic fans. Eighty per cent of our fans are abroad. This is new, it is because everyone watches the Premier League."
The national team has not matched its League's success but Wenger said he detected a new mood in the wake of England's back-to-back victories this week, and was pleased to do so. "I am very happy England has done very well in the last two games," he said. "There is always this uncertainty, 'are we good enough? Do we over-rate the players? The other countries win and we do not.' It is good for the game. [The matches] showed how quickly things change in the game. Who before these two games talked about Barry and Heskey? They were very important players."
Wenger was speaking at the launch of the Arsenal Opus, the latest attempt to open the wallets of football's new wealthy patrons. The book is stunning but the price tag even more so at £3,000 (£4,250 for the "Icons" edition). That the launch literature quotes Charles Saatchi, not a noted football aficionado, describing it as "a work of genius", and an unknown "millionaire" calling it "the ultimate collectable" speaks volumes about the motivation behind it.