Arsene Wenger on the day he signed Danny Welbeck for Arsenal, coached Diego Maradona and met Pope Francis

Arsenal manager claims Welbeck ‘would not be here’ if he had not gone to Italy

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The Independent Football

Arsène Wenger yesterday revealed the details of his remarkable transfer deadline day, in which he met Pope Francis, managed Diego Maradona and signed Danny Welbeck.

For all the scepticism about Wenger’s decision to spend Monday 1 September in Rome, managing one side in the “Match for Peace”, the Arsenal manager insisted yesterday that he had been utterly vindicated. Not only had the travelling allowed him to put more time into securing the £16m capture of Welbeck from Manchester United, but he could also further the cause of world peace and meet the Holy Father as well.

“If I had not travelled that day, Welbeck would not be here,” Wenger said at his first press conference since deadline day. “The coincidence made that because I was on my way. If I stayed at home, Welbeck would not be here today. I will tell you that story one day but that’s the truth.”

Having woken up sufficiently early to fly to Rome, Wenger actually had more time to pursue deals than he might otherwise have done. “We are in 2014 and you can always be in touch with everybody even when you travel,” Wenger said. “The advantage of that day was I had to get up at 6 o’clock in the morning and I was available the whole day.”

The deal was not agreed until a few hours before the deadline, as Arsenal hardened their initial loan interest into an offer for a permanent deal. “At the start, the player was only available on loan, but after he became available to buy, I agreed,” he said,

Wenger is confident that there is far more to come from Welbeck now that he will be regularly trusted to play through the middle. “He can first of all make himself a better player because I can help him,” Wenger said. “He’s a young boy, he’s not 24 yet and let’s not forget that some players who arrived here at the age of 23 made huge careers here so I hope we can contribute and help him.”

“Danny Welbeck is an ideal signing for us because he can play through the middle, where I think is his best position but [he can play] as well on the flanks. His qualities are his team attitude and his pace as well. As you could see with England; his goalscoring.”

Wenger managed this signing – a replacement for the injured Olivier Giroud and an upgrade on Yaya Sanogo – while travelling to Rome for the “Match for Peace”, an inter-religious game held at the Stadio Olimpico which raised almost €2.5m (£2m) for various charities. The match was organised by two Argentinian icons, Pope Francis and Javier Zanetti.

“Meeting the Pope was an experience I did not want to miss,” Wenger said. “I am a Catholic, so it was an experience, and an invitation that I accepted a long time ago. On top of that it was a game for peace and multi-religion understanding.”

Wenger thought that the match was more important now because of recent events. “I thought today where we are a bit in front of an international religious war, it was a very important game.”

The Arsenal manager was delighted to have met Pope Francis, a committed football supporter. “He is a great person to meet because he shows humility and is available to meet for everybody, he has a word with everybody,” Wenger said. “He is a supporter of San Lorenzo in Argentina. He is a football fan. You cannot be born in Argentina and not be a football fan. He spoke with many Argentines so I wanted to be discreet and say ‘It was nice to meet you and bye-bye’.”

Wenger’s discussion with the Pope was brief: when asked whether Pope Francis had recovered from seeing Argentina lose the World Cup final in July, he did not know.

Diego Maradona, whom Wenger managed in the match, made a rather different impression. “There were many Argentine people there, because they like Maradona, and I had him afterwards in my team.”

“It was very difficult,” Wenger laughed, when asked what it was like to coach him. “He comes late, and he wants to play.”

All of the Arsenal squad are back from international duty and Aaron Ramsey was being assessed yesterday after jarring his ankle playing for Wales in Andorra on Tuesday. Mikel Arteta, Kieran Gibbs and Mesut Özil are all back in training and hoping to face Manchester City tomorrow. Theo Walcott is two or three weeks away from full training.

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