Does Arsene Wenger deserve more respect?

Yesterday’s pre-match press conference ahead of Arsenal’s first leg clash with Bayern Munich in the last-16 of the Champions League saw manager Arsene Wenger respond defensively to questions over his future in North London.

The Frenchman took questions from the press, just as he always does, in a clear, concise, reflective, relaxed, and jovial manner – until the question of his contract was asked.

The Sun ran a story yesterday morning, before the press conference, stating as fact that Arsenal were set to offer the 63-year-old a new 2-year contract to stay at the Emirates.

This story was conveniently published just after the Gunners were dumped out of yet another domestic cup competition to another lower league side and fans across all sections of the Arsenal faithful were understandably disillusioned and restless about the future of the club.

Wenger described the story as “lies” and, in effect, deliberate misinformation designed only to ‘hurt’. The headlines on the back pages of the evening papers read ‘meltdown’ and ‘storm’ and today there are sound bites from Stewart Robson doing the rounds at a number of established news outlets that blame Wenger for Arsenal’s trophy drought.

“If he doesn’t like the question, he goes on the attack,” Robson claims.

Now, firstly I believe I’m right in suggesting that Stewart Robson has his own agenda, having been a former player and media representative for the club, before falling out of favour with Wenger.

He tends to get wheeled out at every opportunity to have a dig at Wenger and, usually when the club have had a defeat and there is reactionary discontent whipped up amongst the fans.

Secondly, I detected more defensiveness from Wenger than ‘attack’ – the irony of which is not lost on me – and I have to say I sympathize with the man. He mentioned he’d been in England doing his job for 16 years.

In that time he has been met with an appalling amount of contempt from the British press who are, by all accounts, the most ruthless, self-serving, and disingenuous bunch of hacks. Just ask Hugh Grant.

When Wenger first arrived in England, he was met with ridicule and a sprinkling of xenophobia simply for being French and remotely exotic compared to other managers in the Premier League at the time who were, by and large, white British men and, let’s face it, still are to a large extent.

Since then, he’s been treated with suspicion and ridicule for his customs and his philosophy and now, after 8 years without a trophy, he is mocked and shamed and bullied.

Rarely does the man who revolutionized English football – players used to eat fry-ups before games for crying out loud – ever display any contempt for the press, despite my firm belief that he is a very proud man whose reputation hangs in the balance.

I have to say, Arsenal press conferences are a the most comfortable ones in London, probably the country – the staff there are attentive and friendly, the free food and drink is superb, the atmosphere is welcoming and relaxed. The manager is pensive and intelligent and happy to answer a plethora of pointless questions as much as he is content to discuss politics and world affairs.

He invites the press into his home effectively and he is always diplomatic and considered, the very best of hosts – he looks as if he feels at home with twenty-odd microphones thrust in face. Never have I seen him lose his cool before.

The game on Saturday will have hurt him – his reaction yesterday was of a man who is wounded, not angry – he knows his relationship with the fans is changing and he knows he’s under pressure. The press are the mediums, the agents of this change in many ways. It is through the press that he communicates with Arsenal fans all across the world.

If you look at the way Sir Alex Ferguson handles the press, you could glean an insight – he refuses to answer ‘stupid’ questions, he bans members of the press he dislikes, and responds with wrath when his authority over English football is challenged.

Arsene Wenger has allowed the press free reign over his professional and personal life for 16 years and has remained composed and dignified, polite and off-guard. I think it’s about time he was met with the respect he deserves for his services to Arsenal and to English football, regardless of his future plans.

images:  © wonker

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