Arsene Wenger hurt by lack of unity at Arsenal, fan division factor in exit
LONDON -- Arsene Wenger has said that divisions among Arsenal fans surrounding his future was "hurtful" and hinted that one of the reasons he decided to step down as manager was because "my personality is in the way" of the team's success.
Giving his first news conference following his announcement on Friday that he will end his reign at Arsenal after a 22nd season in charge, Wenger initially said he did not want to elaborate on the reasons for his decision.
But he also said he was unhappy that fans had not shown the sense of "unity" he wants the club to be known for globally, and that the club's reputation was more important than himself.
"Our fans did not give the image of unity that I want in the club all over the world, and that was hurtful," Wenger said after Sunday's 4-1 Premier League win over West Ham. "I am not resentful and I do not want to make stupid headlines. I am not resentful with the fans. I just feel that if my personality is in the way of what I think our club is, for me that is more important than me. ...
"I feel that this club has a fantastic image and for me that is absolutely vital. Sport is as well about something bigger than just winning or losing and for me that was always a worry, how the club is perceived worldwide for kids who play in Africa, in China, in America. And the dream that it can create for young children who want to play football."
It was Wenger's strongest rebuke yet of the way Arsenal supporters have increasingly turned on him over the past couple of seasons as the team's Premier League results deteriorated. Arsenal are set to miss out on the top four for the second year running after 20 straight years of Champions League qualification. "Wenger out" protests and social media memes became increasingly common, and more and more season ticket holders started staying away from home games in recent months.
There was a bigger turnout on Sunday, although there were still a few thousand empty seats at the Emirates. But after three late goals secured the win, chants of "One Arsene Wenger" once again rang out around the stadium for the first time in quite a while.
"I am happy when our fans are happy, and I'm even ready to suffer to make them happy. If sometimes they make me happy as well, I take it," Wenger said about the chants. "But I feel every single decision I made in my 22 years is for the good and the sake of Arsenal. Even when it was the wrong decision it was always with one priority and to do well with the club. I tried to influence a club on the structural side on the development of individual players and of course the style of play and the results. To combine the three is not always easy.
"I believe that I will leave a club that is in a very strong position on all fronts and my target was always to do that and to give an opportunity to the guy that comes in after me to do even better in the next 20 years. That's my wish."
Wenger repeatedly deflected questions on why he decided to step down now, having previously said he wanted to honour his contract that lasts until 2019. He also said it would be "emotionally difficult" to manage another club but didn't rule out staying in management.
"I made a statement. That is basically all you need," Wenger said when asked about the decision. "And overall it's not the moment to come out on that. I would like to keep the priorities right until the end of the season and focus on how well I can do until the end. I will speak about that a bit later in my life."
He also said he was grateful for all the praise he has received over the last couple of days for his achievements, but joked that it was a bit like attending his own funeral.
"I must say I am touched by all the praise I got from English football and I am grateful for having had that experience in this country that is for me special," he said. "And I know that I will not get that anymore in my life. After that, I had the feeling a little bit of assisting at my funeral because other people speak about you and how you were. So I don't need to die anymore."
Mattias is ESPN FC's Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.