Wenger rules out working with director of football at Arsenal
‘Is it somebody who stands in the road and directs play right and left?’
Arsene Wenger: “As long as I’m manager of Arsenal Football Club I will decide what happens on the technical front. That’s it.” Photograph: John Sibley/Reuters
Arsene Wenger has poured scorn on the work of directors of football in the modern game and made it plain that he would not be prepared to work with one at Arsenal.
“I don’t know what director of football means,” Wenger said. “It is somebody who stands in the road and directs play right and left? I don’t understand and I never did understand what it means.”
Wenger’s comments were significant as his chief executive at Arsenal, Ivan Gazidis, is considering whether to appoint a sporting director as part of his drive to tweak and improve various areas at the club. Gazidis has said that the current disappointing season has to act as the “catalyst for change”.
It remains unclear whether Wenger will stay on beyond the expiry of his contract at the end of the season but all the signs are that he will. Gazidis would like him to agree to certain changes and, in broad terms, they involve bolstering the support systems around the manager.
But Wenger shut down a question about any restructuring.
“No, no, no. Sorry, no. I’m not prepared to talk about that,” he said. “I’m the manager of Arsenal Football Club and as long as I’m manager of Arsenal Football Club I will decide what happens on the technical front. That’s it.”
Wenger takes his team to Southampton on Wednesday needing a win to keep alive hopes of a Champions League finish. They trail fourth-placed Manchester City by six points and have an inferior goal difference, although they do have a game in hand.
Wenger reported that Laurent Koscielny was a major selection doubt with a calf problem but Granit Xhaka, he said, “looks to have recovered quite well” from the knock to the back of a lower leg that forced him out of the 2-0 home win over Manchester United on Sunday. Arsenal have lost two and drawn three of their last five league fixtures at Southampton.
Meanwhile, Wenger feels the Premier League champions-elect, Chelsea, do not seek to take the initiative in matches – and neither did last season’s title winners, Leicester City – with the Arsenal manager worrying about the message that their successes send out.
Chelsea will claim the title with a win at West Bromwich Albion on Friday night and Wenger has noted two trends about them and Leicester. The first is that neither club played any European football in the season of their triumph and the second relates to their style, which he described as featuring “not big possession”.
According to Opta, Wenger’s perception is correct with regard to Leicester but less so with Chelsea. Leicester had 42.4 per cent of possession in their games last season, which was the third-lowest in the division while Chelsea have had 54.2 per cent this time out, which is the sixth-highest.
“Over the last two seasons, teams who have not big possession have won the league,” Wenger said. “And, as well, teams who were not involved in Europe, at all, won the league. Because the league is so physically difficult, maybe it is very difficult to cope with both. We will see how Chelsea respond next season.
“Are teams who are not making the game doing well? Yes. When we analyse it in Geneva [at coaching conferences], we always analyse the Champions League and I must say, in some seasons, the team who had low possession won the Champions League. Over a longer period, it is the teams who have the most possession who win it.
“I still think sport has to encourage initiative and, if it rewards too much teams who don’t take initiative, then we have to rethink the whole process because people will not, forever, come to watch teams who do not want to take the initiative. The responsibility of people who make the rules is always to encourage teams who want to play, because that is what you want to see.”
Wenger’s purist streak was evident throughout the discussion.
“I am convinced you still need to have the ball to create goal chances and that you cannot encourage, as well, youth teams to say: ‘We do not want the ball’,” Wenger said. “You cannot buy big players and say: ‘We do not want the ball’. Big players want the ball.”