Football: Wenger can beat Fergie's 27 years

Football: Wenger can beat Fergie's 27 years
While Arsenal's chief executive Ivan Gazidis says the club can compete for top players, it is also crucial to find and polish raw gems at their own academy.
PHOTO: ST

As he enters his 20th season in charge of Arsenal, Arsene Wenger has survived repeated calls for his sacking and the Frenchman also has the steadfast support of club chief executive Ivan Gazidis.

The bar is set high, at 27 years to be exact, by Sir Alex Ferguson's reign at Old Trafford. For Gazidis, his 65-year-old manager could go on to claim that record for longevity in an English top-flight club.

"He's been incredibly important for us... You never know but he's in great health and he's doing incredibly well. He's full of energy and enthusiasm, his hunger is still there, and I'd never put an end-date on it," said Gazidis.

"He's also been a passionate supporter of the club, in a sense a fan of the club. He's put the club's progress and development above his own personal interest.

"We believe we have the right man in the club and we're very pleased that he's full of health and willing to carry us forward."

As the Gunners went nine years without a trophy until lifting the FA Cup last year, and which they successfully retained in May, fans grew increasingly frustrated by Wenger's reluctance to dip into the transfer market and sections of the support demanded his axing.

But Gazidis, who joined Arsenal in 2009, never bowed to the pressure and kept faith in Wenger.

The trophy drought came in a period when the club moved to the £470 million (S$1 billion) Emirates Stadium in 2006 and the manager, who has a degree in economics, had to tighten his belt in the transfer market.

The debts have since been repaid and the purse strings loosened, as seen in the record £42.5 million signing of Mesut Oezil in 2013 and the £35 million spent on Alexis Sanchez last summer.

But Gazidis, a trained lawyer, played down the club's newfound financial muscle in the market, adding that it is important to balance new signings and giving chances to the club's academy products.

He pointed to Hector Bellerin and Francis Coquelin, who joined the club as youth players, but emerged as mainstays of the first team last season. Gazidis said part of being financially strong is the ability to retain these talents when rich clubs come calling.

As history has shown, the Gunners were organ donors to the rich as they saw their hearts ripped out in previous seasons after former captains Patrick Vieira (to Juventus), Cesc Fabregas (to Barcelona) and Robin van Persie (to Manchester United) were all sold.

Asked if the Gunners can compete with the likes of Real Madrid and Barca in the transfer market, he said: "We're not able to compete at that level yet. It's true now we also have the ability to add some players (from) the top."

"But what's more important to us is that we're able to continue our (youth) development philosophy and then hold on to the players," he added.

"That's the most exciting story, that's what the success of Arsenal is built on and is going to be built on. And if you look at all the most successful football clubs over time, they all have that at their heart."

As Arsenal look healthy on both the balance and team sheets, Gazidis is confident of winning the league title, which has eluded them since 2004.

He said: "We've got a growing sense of belief in our squad. We want to be more consistent going into next season... we definitely have the quality in our squad to compete and win the league."


This article was first published on July 17, 2015.
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