Arsenal have become the latest English club to begin exploiting the American market for football with a partnership with the Colorado Rapids, but persuading Arsène Wenger to join the revolution may prove more difficult. The Arsenal manager warned yesterday that he would resist any attempt to take his players on publicity-seeking summer tours of America.
The Arsenal manager confirmed The Independent story yesterday that his club were entering into a partnership with the Major League Soccer franchise that could result in the American team changing their name to the Colorado Arsenal. The Denver-based club were preparing for a "major" announcement last night that was expected to include the name change and perhaps even adopting Arsenal's historic maroon strip, which they wore in their last season at Highbury, as new team colours.
Wenger described the partnership as a "technical co-operation" which would allow Arsenal to have their pick of players and also give the chance to, in his words, "extend our brand". He said he had been given assurances by the Arsenal board that this was not the prelude to another American takeover in the Premiership and joked that "there are enough Americans in the league now".
However, the Arsenal manager was adamant that Arsenal's newly discovered interest in self-promotion would not extend to the kind of pre-season tour of America that Manchester United and Chelsea have undertaken in recent years. This summer is likely to be one of the biggest yet for English clubs in America, with Chelsea making their third consecutive annual trip to provide the opposition for David Beckham's Los Angeles Galaxy debut in July.
Wenger was much less enthusiastic at that prospect, despite Arsenal having already turned down a number of lucrative offers, including some from the Far East. "I don't like the pre-season tours, but I must say the club has become so popular that we have a lot of proposals now to do it," he said. "I hope I can resist as long as I want because it is a lot of money that is offered."
Instead of Beverly Hills and Manhattan in the summer, Wenger has preferred the more genteel charms of Bad Waltersdorf, an Austrian spa town where the visit of Arsenal is very much the biggest event in the calendar.
Should Arsenal persuade Wenger to take his players to America, there will be some catching up to do. Chelsea announced their "strategic alliance" with the Anschultz Entertainment Group, who own LA Galaxy, last April. United pioneered the pre-season America tour, going there in 2003 and 2004.
Wenger would no doubt point out that United, who intend to visit Malaysia, South Korea, Japan and China this summer, have not won a Premiership title since they began their world tours and he did add that he had "the final say" when it comes to where Arsenal would spend their pre-seasons.
"At the moment America is an untapped market, but it will remain so as long as they don't produce a massive player," Wenger said. "If they produced good players but nothing more, nobody will really focus on that."
Wenger was even more dismissive of the criticisms from the Middlesbrough chairman, Steve Gibson, that Arsenal, as well as Liverpool, were doing nothing to help English football by fielding sides of predominantly foreign players. "Quality" was, he said, the only benchmark when he selected young players for the club's academy. "The only thing I can say is that whenever England do not win it is always my fault," Wenger said, "even when I am not at the game.
"International football is boring. For me, club football has moved forward and international football has gone backwards. Why? Because of the number of countries participating. You go to see England playing the Faroe Islands. No one will really be interested - apart from their love of the country - in the level of football."