Wenger affirms loyalty to Highbury

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The Independent Football

Arsene Wenger yesterday endorsed Sven Goran Eriksson and Roy Hodgson as suitable candidates for the England manager's job, while emphasising yet again that he was not for turning. As Wenger's vice-chairman at Arsenal, David Dein, is one of the six men helping Adam Crozier, the Football Association's chief executive, to fill the vacancy, it seems likely that that message was conveyed some time ago.

Arsene Wenger yesterday endorsed Sven Goran Eriksson and Roy Hodgson as suitable candidates for the England manager's job, while emphasising yet again that he was not for turning. As Wenger's vice-chairman at Arsenal, David Dein, is one of the six men helping Adam Crozier, the Football Association's chief executive, to fill the vacancy, it seems likely that that message was conveyed some time ago.

Meanwhile Eriksson, the manager of Arsenal's Champions' League rivals, Lazio, became the bookmakers' even-money favourite for the position, on the basis of erroneous reports in the Italian press that Crozier was flying out to see him. An FA spokesman said: "Adam Crozier is not going to Italy. No meetings have been confirmed with any candidates."

Wenger, speaking at the club's training ground, confirmed once more that he would see out his current contract, which does not expire until the end of next season. The only twist he had to add to a tale becoming as complicated as the election of the House of Commons Speaker was that if the European Community carried out its threat to abolish all transfer fees, then he would not wish to continue as a club manager.

As ever, the House of Highbury speaker was an engaging one. "Sometimes you are available and sometimes you are not," Wenger said. "For me, it's just not possible. I love Arsenal and I'm committed to my contract. My mind is not like the weather forecast in England - it doesn't suddenly change. But it's not that the England job is not attractive."

It would become far more attractive, to all manner of managers, he suggested, if players were suddenly free to move from club to club as they wished, without compensation: "I wait until the new transfer rules come out. Then I will decide about my future. If things go like they say, there's no way to be in the job anymore. Then international football would be suddenly attractive and you will have too many candidates."

That is hardly the FA's problem at present. Crozier let slip at the weekend that three was the maximum number they had on their shortlist, which has now become shorter by one. Eriksson, preparing for tonight's Champions' League game at home to Shakhtar Donetsk, which Lazio must win to have any hope of winning the group ahead of Arsenal, would only say: "Everybody knows that I have a contract until June 2001. I don't want to talk about other things."

The Swede, who has won national championships in Sweden, Portugal and Italy during a 22-year management career, was one of the élite coaches who attended a Uefa forum earlier this year along with Wenger, who yesterday said of him: "I've never heard Eriksson say that he didn't want the job, so there's maybe some potential there to say 'yes'. He's already once agreed to sign for Blackburn, so that means at least he's considering leaving Italy. I would say there are some positive signs that he would not be reluctant."

Wenger said of Hodgson: "He would solve two problems. One, he's English and two, he has experience and has not left the country for long, so he knows all the English players. Also he has proved with an international team [Switzerland] that he can do well. Is he on the bench for Eriksson? I don't know. I would consider the two candidates at the same level. But England are in an urgent position. They need somebody for March, when there are two crucial qualifying games and that means December, because this guy has to see how he can prepare the team."

While the unemployed former Italy manager Arrigo Sacchi threw his hat into the ring yesterday, speculation elsewhere had Hodgson slipping down the greasy pole. But his club, FC Copenhagen, changed their mind and agreed, reluctantly, that they would let the FA talk to him if a request was forthcoming. So far it has not been. "Under no circumstances can we release Mr Hodgson just like that in the middle of a season," said Niels Christian Holmstroem, a director of the club, adding, with an almost discernible nudge: "Of course, money can soften the negotiations. You can never say never."

Even Wenger has not said never: just "not now".

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