Football: Wenger goes to war over Anelka

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The Independent Online
ARSENE WENGER insisted last night that Arsenal would not be held to ransom by Nicolas Anelka. The Arsenal manager, who until now has made little public comment on his striker's desire to leave Highbury, said that any transfer would have to be resolved within the next 10 days. He also made clear the club's determination to take a stand against the growing power of players and their agents.

Wenger, who said that Anelka's only motivation in attempting to force his way out of Highbury was money, has set a deadline of 19 July - when Arsenal leave for their pre-season training camp in France - for the matter to be resolved.

Arsenal are believed to value Anelka at pounds 22m. Having refused to deal with Real Madrid - the club Anelka originally said he wanted to join - because of what they allege was an illegal approach, Arsenal are now waiting for Lazio to make a suitable offer after several weeks of talks. Reports in Italy suggest that Juventus have now offered Thierry Henry - a striker in whom Wenger has been interested for some time - plus pounds 14m.

Whether or not Anelka leaves, Arsenal want to sign two new strikers before the start of the season. However, Wenger would not be drawn on whether he wanted Henry. He confirmed he was still considering a move for the Brazilian striker, Christian, who plays for Internacional Porto Alegre.

Wenger believes that a deal for Anelka will be completed before 19 July, but he made it clear that Arsenal were determined to face up to the ever- increasing power of players and agents. He clearly believes that Anelka has been influenced by his two brothers, who act as his unlicensed agents, and that money is behind their attempt to negotiate a transfer.

"He has been isolated," Wenger said. "We have lost contact with him. I understand that he wants to leave, but for him to lose contact is more difficult for me to understand. I don't believe he was so keen to leave. He's not a bad boy. He's not someone who is unwell in London. That's completely untrue. He has been pushed to say that. He is 20 years old, he is a regular player at an ambitious club like Arsenal, is playing in the Champions' League and is a regular international.

"So there are no footballing reasons for him to move. All the rest after that can only be money. The story is quite simple. He has been offered a huge contract and motivated to say that he just wants to leave."

Arsenal, who signed Anelka for just pounds 500,000 two years ago, are not prepared to compromise their principles. Wenger said: "We will defend our interests as far as we can and we will be the ones that make the decision of whether he leaves or not. It's not a money problem as we don't want to sell him. We could take as much money or even more in two years' time. Why should you accept to lose a player for the wrong price?"

If Arsenal are unable to negotiate an acceptable fee, their French striker will be forced to remain at Highbury. As Wenger would be unwilling to endanger morale by having a disruptive influence in the first team, he has not discounted the possibility of Anelka playing in the reserves.

"If we decide to keep him then anything is possible as we don't know how he will react," Wenger said. "It wouldn't be an ideal situation, but if you give up every time the players will just walk out when they want to and there are more and more cases every year. At some stage the clubs have to stand up and make the players respect their contracts."

He added: "The whole of football is out of control. We respect our contracts and we expect that respect back from our players. Only the clubs can resolve it by having an agreement that they don't take players away when other clubs don't want to sell.

"Look what happened to Lazio. They lost Christian Vieri [to Internazionale] in a similar way and their reaction was to do the same to us. I've got over it now, but I was angry at the whole football business as I don't think that it's going the right way. Other agents will try to do it again.

"Everyone wants money but it must not be the only thing. If it only becomes business, then it will kill off football. I love football and I have to defend it. If there was no money in football tomorrow, I'd still be in it. Many other people would not."

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