Wenger confesses regret at missing out on Eto'o, Makelele and Cech
Wednesday 04 October 2006
When it comes to the past Arsène Wenger, it seems, does not follow the view of his countrywoman Edith Piaf, and "regret nothing". Among the second thoughts he confessed to yesterday were a failure to sign both Claude Makelele and Samuel Eto'o when he had the chance. Petr Cech, now Makelele's team-mate at Chelsea, is another to have eluded Wenger.
These revelations were made as Wenger marked his decade at the club with an interview on the official website, www.arsenal.com. In it he confessed: "I have been offered many players, like Petr Cech, who could have done well for us. Claude Makelele was close to signing for us, Samuel Eto'o too. I missed a few.
"Makelele was straight after Vieira came, August 1996. He was still in Nantes, and Eto'o, just before he joined Barcelona. It was between us and Barcelona."
Makelele went on to join Marseilles, then Celta Vigo, before joining Real Madrid with whom he won the Champions' League in 2002. He signed for Chelsea in 2003 for £16.6m and has now played more than 100 League games for them, collecting two Premiership medals. Eto'o has won back-to-back La Liga titles and was in the Barcelona team that defeated Arsenal in the European Cup final in May. So neither are likely to have regrets themselves.
Wenger's biggest regret may prove to be the failure to sign Cech, who was then at Rennes. Jens Lehmann, Arsenal's incumbent goalkeeper, had an excellent season last year but is 12 years older than Cech.
Wenger's other regret concerned an incident he could not influence, the infamous penalty Wayne Rooney "won" at Old Trafford when Manchester United ended Arsenal's 49-match unbeaten run.
Wenger said: "I feel the penalty awarded by [referee Mike] Riley in our 50th game was a completely invented penalty. Wayne Rooney dived on that occasion. It was on a day when we did not deserve to lose."
That match marked the nadir of Wenger's relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson, his United couterpart. As Ferguson later revealed to The Independent, Wenger came running down the tunnel at him, "his hands raised", during what became known as the "Battle of the Buffet".
Since then it appears there has been something of a rapprochement, probably helped by their joint attendance at various coaching seminars, and the hard reality that both are now chasing Chelsea. "There is less aggression than there was before because we have both calmed down, and our relationship has become... more normal," Wenger said.
Ferguson will complete 20 years at Old Trafford next month, an achievement the 56-year-old Wenger does not forecast emulating. "That would look a bit pretentious," he said. "I will try as hard as I can to be honest enough to know the day when I feel I am not good enough any more.
"You have to give everything and to feel as if it will be for your life, but also that it can stop any day. That is what I want to continue."
Whatever the future holds he said he expects to remain fiercely motivated. "When the desire to win is inside you, it never stops. Maybe my best performance as Arsenal manager was to play through the whole season unbeaten. It became pure happiness just to watch the team. There is not much room to do better. But you always want to be even closer to your best again. That is motivation for your whole life - to always do better."
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