Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who was described by FA Chief Executive Martin Glenn in September as a 'perfect' fit for the England manager's job, has revealed that he turned down the chance to become an international coach with France on more than one occasion when he was in charge of AS Monaco during his thirties.
Wenger was discussing the pressures on international managers with reference to Eddie Howe, 38, who brings his Bournemouth side to the Emirates Stadium today, and has also been mentioned as an England contender. When it was put to the Frenchman that it might be now or never for him to coach a national side, he said: “I was already in France asked a few times to take the national team at that age, 37, 38. But I thought always: 'I have time to do it,' and I thought it so much but I have still not done it. The time is getting short now.”
The FA might have viewed Wenger as a potential England manager, but he believes that an Englishman should do the job. And whether he would enjoy coaching any national side is arguable. He relishes day-to-day involvement with players as well as bringing young players through. Although his idea of relaxation is famously to watch football on DVDs, even a football obsessive on Wenger's level might find the attraction of the screen wearing thin in the long periods between international matches.
“If you want to be part of coaching, then I think of course it's at a club,” he said. “For me, international coaching is not coaching. It's only really interesting during the big tournaments. In Europe now you have 53 countries, 24 qualifiers, you play two years of qualifiers, no-one knows why. Then you go to the European Championships and that is interesting.
“Now they will create a 48-team World Cup, so we'll start the World Cup in January and finish in June. It's a very pressured job for the England coach and every week you go to a game and think: 'Has this guy the level, do I pick him or not?' But you are a bit frustrated on a daily basis.”
Howe was named last week by Bob Wilson, the former Arsenal goalkeeper and coach, as an ideal possible successor when Wenger leaves the club, which could still be a long way off even though his current contract expires at the end of the season. But Wenger thinks highly enough of Howe to have sent Jack Wilshere to Bournemouth on a season-long loan.
“There are similarities – we are both blond,” Wenger quipped. But he added: “I think he's doing very well. I like the fact that he tries to play from a positive philosophy and with the England job he's been mentioned because he's one of the few English young managers who is doing well in the Premier League – and working in the Premier League.”
And that is where Wenger believes Howe should stay for now. “He's a bit young, maybe, to leave a job in a club to go straight away to a national team because most of the time, after the national team, it's not easy for the guys to leave in a serene way. Especially in England!”