London: Arsene Wenger has opened the door on the extraordinary prospect of returning to Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium with another team after admitting that he hopes to continue in elite European club competition.
“I hope these are not my last European cup games — my target is to play in Europe again,” said Wenger, ahead of Thursday night’s Europa League semi-final first leg against Atletico Madrid. Wenger took the unusual step on Wednesday of releasing a statement to clarify that the timing of his departure announcement was “not really my decision”.
“I’ve had no break [from football management] for 35 years,” Wenger said. “You can look around, and that doesn’t exist. I don’t know now how addicted I am. I am like a guy who plays Russian roulette every week and suddenly has no gun. I will see how much I miss that gun.
“When I started at 33, I thought I would never survive, but you learn to dominate your emotions. You are never sure if you do the right thing. It will be surreal when I don’t work. At the moment I work.”
So, might he take as much as a year out, like Pep Guardiola did between his jobs at Barcelona and Bayern Munich? “It’s long — 365 days,” said Wenger, frowning at the thought. Looking relaxed and speaking more expansively than he generally has in recent years, Wenger also urged Arsenal to be bold in hiring his successor if they judge him right for the job.
“I wish that all goes well,” said Wenger, who famously arrived in 1996 to the headline: “Arsene Who?” “You do not give 22 years of your life for something, go away and want things to collapse. Maybe when you have a big ego at 40, you think the world cannot live without you. At my age you understand the world continues and you wish that it continues better.
“This team has quality. Two years ago, we finished second [in the Premier League]. Last year, we had 75 points and won the FA Cup and Charity Shield. We reached the final of the League Cup and a European semi-final.
“I am convinced with two or three additions this team has the quality to fight for the championship. You will not be short of candidates.”
Of reports that other clubs were already trying to contact him, Wenger said: “They will find my phone number, don’t worry. At the moment, I’m not ready to commit to anything else but Arsenal.”
For all his evident sadness at leaving, Wenger was willing to discuss the succession and he spoke positively about former Barcelona manager Luis Enrique and also his former captains, Patrick Vieira and Mikel Arteta.
“They need to make the right decision, even if you have to be bold,” he said. “Is it former people who worked here? That is even better. But there are many players who had qualities. I don’t influence that choice, but I will stand behind the decision. Of course I have a high opinion of Luis Enrique.”