French call-ups anger Wenger

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Arsene Wenger, who has been widely tipped as a future manager of France, yesterday let fly with unusual ferocity at his home country's football federation, accusing them of treating major European clubs like merde. The normally mild-mannered Arsenal manager is furious that France, without World Cup qualifying matches, have arranged so many friendlies this season for which players will have to be released, beginning with a charity game next Wednesday, three days before the Premiership begins.

Arsene Wenger, who has been widely tipped as a future manager of France, yesterday let fly with unusual ferocity at his home country's football federation, accusing them of treating major European clubs like merde. The normally mild-mannered Arsenal manager is furious that France, without World Cup qualifying matches, have arranged so many friendlies this season for which players will have to be released, beginning with a charity game next Wednesday, three days before the Premiership begins.

"If I give you the French national team fixtures, you would jump out of the window," he said. "It's just ridiculous. We pay them [the players] and they travel. Every international date they have a friendly; in December they go to South Africa, and Japan and Korea in May. It's madness. For me, it's saying to the clubs 'you're shit'. It's as though they're organising a travelling tour and I really feel it's disrespectful to the clubs. It's just a joke."

Arsenal have Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry and Robert Pires in contention for places, and may yet add to that list Bordeaux's striker Sylvain Wiltord, whom they remain keen to sign, though the two clubs have reached deadlock over the fee. Under rules set by world football's governing body, Fifa, clubs are obliged to release players for up to seven games in a season. World Cup matches in Europe do not generally clash with Premiership dates, but that does not necessarily apply to friendlies.

Other English teams affected will include Chelsea, with Marcel Desailly and Frank Leboeuf, Manchester United, with their new goalkeeper Fabien Barthez, and Middlesbrough, who have signed Christian Karembeu.Arsenal and Leeds will also suffer if players like Nigeria's Nwankwo Kanu, Cameroon's Lauren, and the Australian pair Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka exercise their right to play at the Olympics in September.

Despite this inherent disadvantage in signing foreign players, Wenger is continuing to look abroad following the recent departures of Emmanuel Petit and Marc Overmars to Barcelona. He has an option on two Latvian internationals, the left-winger Andrejs Rubins and Igors Stepanovs, a centre-back, and has taken the 19-year-old Nimes midfielder, Guy Demel, as well as Lauren, from Real Mallorca, and Pires, from Marseilles. A Lithuanian striker, Tomas Danilevicius, is on trial.

With the departure of Davor Suker to West Ham United, another attacking player is a priority, but while experienced internationals like George Weah, Alen Boksic and David Ginola have changed clubs this summer, Wenger has made it clear that he is only interested in younger material. "I don't want to be the victim of the star system," he said. "If you buy a name who's dead [over-age], everybody's happy off the field, but on the field you can have a problem. There's no point in buying a big name who can't do it any more." It is debatable whether Suker, signed at 31, came into that category; what is not arguable is that Wenger has helped younger recruits like Nicolas Anelka, Petit and Thierry Henry to improve enormously, as well as making equally huge profits when the former pair moved back to Europe.

He has been promised that none of the £30m received for Petit and Overmars will be diverted towards the cost ofArsenal's new stadium, but is still refusing to meet Bordeaux's demand of £13m for Wiltord and is now "not confident" of signing the striker before a self-imposed deadline of this weekend. "I've seen some good young players here and I'll give them a chance," he said, citing the left-back Ashley Cole, who was on loan at Crystal Palace last season, and the teenage winger Jermaine Pennant.

"We have great potential, we have good players and if we get one or two more players we'll have a great squad," he added. "I'm not pessimistic at all, I'm very optimistic."

Comments