This French resistance to the obvious truth...c'est magnifique
Belligerent, stubborn, unyielding.
Arsène Wenger has been called all that and worse over six seasons without a trophy but as he faced the world yesterday morning, hours from losing Cesc Fabregas and with the prospect of Samir Nasri departing over the Premier League's opening weekend, there was also something strangely magnificent in the intransigence of England's most famous Frenchman.
He would not even contemplate taking the invitation to wallow in the misery that so many Arsenal fans are experiencing on the eve of a new season. He certainly would not accept the blame that some believe is his for presiding over the break-up of another promising Arsenal team without spending on new players. At one point he even said "I expect nobody to leave the club" just hours before Fabregas took a step closer to doing just that.
There was something of the captured French resistance fighter about Wenger as he refused to give up any information to his interrogators. Just because the mood around the club is approaching crisis point with Fabregas's departure – and no obvious replacements – Wenger does not believe that this is reason to cast aside his usual cautiousness in matters of player trading.
He has always conducted his transfer business in the utmost secrecy. It has been part of his success in years gone by when he signed little-known players who turned into stars before his rivals even knew they existed. In years gone by he was celebrated for his ability to keep his business in-house while others conducted theirs in public. Now, with a lot of people demanding an explanation, it is perceived as his weakness.
Those who know Wenger say that there is nothing to be gained by accepting that a player is leaving before the ink is dried on a deal and, by doing so, Wenger would be weakening the club's negotiating position. In his mind, Wenger yesterday was sitting at the poker table with Manchester City and Barcelona and one unguarded moment of weakness could have cost his club money.
It is evident that faith in the old maxim that "Arsène knows" is starting to waver in some elements of the Arsenal support, especially after his summer pronouncement that the club could not be taken seriously if they sold both players. Besides, and there really is no polite way of saying this, he could not give a monkey's about what the fans think over a set of negotiations that only he and a few others know the real truth about.
It made for a surreal, if often entertaining, press conference at Arsenal's training ground at London Colney. We came anticipating answers. We left with virtually none unless you count the news that Juan Mata will not be joining Arsenal this month (explanation requested but none forthcoming).
Increasingly, though, it became less about Fabregas and Nasri and more about Wenger, as it undoubtedly will this season if things go badly. "I am not here to judge my own performances, I have to leave that to other people," Wenger said. "I am here to give absolutely my best, which I think I do, to show my commitment and loyalty to the club. The rest, I will let other people judge."
Asked whether winning the Premier League title this season would rate as his most miraculous achievement, even Wenger said: "I don't know, I am not here to tell you how great I am. I just want to give my best for this club." For the first time in a long time, he was asked whether he would consider resigning if things went badly. "There again, it's not down to me to do that. I am here to give my best as long as I can and I will do that, I promise you."
It is worth pointing out at this stage that there are many managers – most of whom have won much less than Wenger – who would have walked out there and then. That he does not is to his great credit. Asked about the criticism from fans he was unyielding. "Yes, I'm a human being. [But] my reaction is I don't listen to what people say. What I want is for our fans to appreciate our team and to support our team.
"The media environment with our team is very negative – if our fans go the way the media want them to go we have no chance. Everybody looks for centre-backs [all over] the whole world. Clubs with unlimited resources are looking for a centre-back. We are not in a supermarket where you go to a shelf and pick up a centre-back or a striker."
Wenger's point is that buying good players, producing winning teams and keeping a club solvent are not as simple as others believe. "We are in an international market where all over the world people look for the same players," he said, "you don't need to be a genius to understand that." Indeed, but he is losing the battle to convince people that his club's money is better off in the bank than invested in inflated transfer fees.
The world is not operating to Wenger's principles but that does not mean he is about to abandon them. Instead he seems even more rooted than ever. He needs a break. He needs a signing that excites the support and energises the team. He needs a win against Newcastle this evening. He needs to beat Udinese over two legs in the Champions League qualifier. The trouble is, the way things are going, he cannot count on any of the aforementioned.
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