Celtic’s Brendan Rodgers distanced himself from replacing Arsene Wenger yesterday amid reports that Luis Enrique was being lined up by Arsenal to succeed their veteran manager.
Wenger, whose position has long been under intense scrutiny, announced Friday he would be bringing down the curtain on his near 22 years in charge of the north London club at the end of the season. Rodgers has been touted as a potential successor but the former Liverpool boss said: “There’s nothing really in it. I have always said I’m extremely happy here.”
Rodgers has revived his reputation in nearly two years in Scotland after a troubled end to his three-and-a-half years at Liverpool in 2015, leading Celtic to the brink of back-to-back domestic trebles in Scotland. “I have three years left on my contract. I am loving every minute of being at Celtic from a professional perspective but also my life up here,” he said.
Arsenal haven’t won the Premier League title since 2004 and now face a second successive campaign where they will finish outside the top four. They’ll also likely need to win the Europa League — Wenger’s men are in the semi-finals — to qualify for Europe’s elite Champions League tournament.
Wenger had faced repeated calls to quit from frustrated Gunners’ fans but the 68-year-old Frenchman had remained steadfast in wanting to carry on. Yet for all that he won three Premier League titles and a record-breaking seven FA Cups, the pressure caused by more than a decade without the English title and the more recent failure to qualify for this season’s Champions League, finally appear to have taken their toll. Getting Arsenal back among a top four now featuring Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham would be a feather in the cap of whichever Gunners manager achieved the feat. “They want to get back towards Champions League football,” said Rodgers. “It’s a fantastic club but, for me, my only focus is on Celtic and doing the very best I can for them.”
Another possible contender, former Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira, also ruled himself out of the running. The manager of MLS side New York City told US media: “I am always flattered to hear my name linked with different football clubs. That is good for your ego but at the same time, I am happy here.”
Meanwhile the Daily Mail reported Enrique was being lined up to replace Wenger, saying only an “unexpected glitch in talks that are well-advanced” could derail the appointment of the 47-year-old former Barcelona boss.
Enrique, who played for both Barcelona and arch-rivals Real Madrid, is currently on sabbatical in Spain. The Mail said Arsenal’s new director of football relations Raul Sanllehi, who forged a close relationship with Enrique at Barcelona, had made an approach, with the two men recently seen having dinner together at an exclusive London club.
Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis refused to mention specific candidates to succeed Wenger during a press conference on Friday, although he did say he wanted the club to continue to play a similar brand of football. “We are not going to find a replacement for Arsene Wenger for a variety of reasons,” said Gazidis.
“It’s going to be a condensed summer with a World Cup in the middle and a shortened transfer window, so I think for all of us having that clarity sooner is better,” he explained, with Germany coach Joachim Loew also linked with the job. Gazidis added: “It is important to me we continue the football values that Arsene has instilled in the club.”
Former Arsenal striker Ian Wright, who played under Wenger, found it hard to believe his old boss had resigned with a year left on his current deal. “Arsene Wenger is a man of principle, honesty and integrity — that is why I am convinced he has been sacked and not resigned,” Wright told The Sun tabloid. “For all the vitriol and abuse thrown at him, Arsene has never been a man to walk out before the end of a contract.”
Despite the tense nature of his relationship with Arsenal fans in recent years, Wenger is expected to get a warm reception when he begins his farewell tour today as the Gunners host West Ham.
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