Arsène Wenger dug his heels in here at the Nou Camp on Tuesday night saying that, in spite of mounting pressure for him to call time on 20 years in charge of Arsenal, he has more desire than ever to stay at the club he built into what it is today.
“I have no doubt about my motivation,” he said. “I built this club with hard work and without any external resources. If you compare the club when I arrived and how it is today, it is moved forward – and without any help from anybody. There was no money from anyone. Now I am even more motivated than the first day I arrived. And I feel even more pressure and responsibility to keep this club moving forward.”
It will not be what many Arsenal supporters, tired of Groundhog Day seasons, want to hear but an FA Cup exit, a collapse in the league and the growing voice of discontent among former players have done nothing to change the manager’s rhetoric.
There were hints of the beginning of a long goodbye when he said: “I’m honest enough to know that one day I will say I did my best and the people around me will realise that.”
But Wenger was as defiant as he was relaxed, despite leading a team attempting to overturn a two-goal deficit against the tournament favourites and defending champions, Barcelona.
Wenger added: “My dedication is 100 per cent. I just want to give my best for this club.”
When asked about the dissent from fans and former players, he said: “I don’t want to get into that discussion because it can be interpreted two ways.”
The Barcelona coach, Luis Enrique, had earlier done his best to defend Wenger, although his comments merely ended up highlighting the fact that the further you travel from North London the stranger Wenger’s prolonged reign seems.
“Madre Mía [Oh mother!], 20 years here would be impossible,” he said, when asked about the two-decade reign of his opposite number. “It just would not happen in the modern age. He deserves praise for the level he has maintained and the desire that he still has for the job. Certainly, in my case, it would not be possible [to stay so long].”
Luis Enrique earns £4.3m a season. He has won five trophies in less than two seasons. Wenger’s annual salary – closer to £7m – has produced two FA Cups in the last 11 seasons and is on course to produce nothing in this campaign.
Those Arsenal fans who want their manager gone will have enjoyed Luis Enrique’s musings on a manager’s contract. “My view is a little radical,” he said. “If it was up to me, I wouldn’t sign contracts for longer than six months. And if the clubs study it, they would see that it would work out a lot more economical for them. They wouldn’t have to pay out so much in compensation. And from the coach’s point of view – a manager that is not happy should be able to leave.”
His tongue was in his cheek with the talk of six-month contracts – a man on a run of 37 games unbeaten can afford not to take the questions directed his way too seriously.
Asked if he was happy, he added: “If any of my fellow coaches hears me saying I’m not happy managing this team, they would probably attack me the next time they see me.
“I enjoy my job but there is also tension and the pressure to keep performing. Up until now we have been very good but there is still some way to go and we need to keep going.”
Barcelona old boy Alexis Sanchez will perhaps pose the biggest threat, as Luis Enrique acknowledged. “I’m sure that there will be a special motivation for him. I’m sure the fact that he played here can be a stimulus for him. He was three seasons here and he is an important player for Arsenal. He is physical, quick, attacks the space very well – I think his time here improved him as a player.”
It will take a very special performance from the Chilean on his return to turn this tie around. But Wenger believes a positive performance would at least give Arsenal a springboard to get them back into the title race.
“I am convinced it would be a big boost for us to have a great game,” he said. “We are not favourites but the Premier League is more open than people think it is.”
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