LONDON (AP) — Arsene Wenger said he wasn’t tired of managing Arsenal but quit after finding fan protests calling for his departure “hurtful” and damaging to the club’s image.
The 68-year-old Frenchman was initially reticent on Sunday to discuss the precise reason for his decision after 22 years in charge.
But facing the media for the first time since Friday’s shock announcement, Wenger relented and gave an insight into what precipitated his departure when he had another season remaining on his contract.
“I was not tired,” Wenger said after Arsenal’s 4-1 victory over West Ham in the Premier League. “Personally I believe this club is respected all over the world, much more than in England … our fans did not give the image of unity that I want in the club all over the world, and that was hurtful. I feel the club is respected. Overall the image we gave of our club is not what it is and not what I like.”
“Wenger Out” banners have been displayed by some fans at games — and at events unconnected to football — as disillusionment grew at Arsenal’s failure to win the Premier League since 2004.
“I do not want to make stupid headlines. I am not resentful with the fans,” Wenger said. “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. That’s what I say. It has nothing to do with the fans. Our fans were not happy. I can understand that.
“I travel a lot and this club is respected all over the world, and that’s down to work. It’s down to the way we play football, the way we behave and the way we treat people. So I want that to go on and be respected and give the image that I think is right. Even though there’s a lot of money in the game … more than the results is the way a club is perceived. And the example the club gives all over the world.”
Wenger was hired by Arsenal in 1996 on the back of successes at Monaco and a stint in charge of Japanese club Grampus Eight. Only the second manager from outside Britain or Ireland to take charge of a top-flight English club, Wenger helped to revolutionize English football by introducing new sports science practices.
Wenger’s methods delivered on the pitch — with Arsenal winning the Premier League in 1998, 2002 and the 2004 unbeaten “Invincibles” season — and helped to attract a global fan base.
“I feel that this club has a fantastic image and for me that is absolutely vital,” Wenger said. “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.”
Wenger has enjoyed glowing tributes about his contribution to the Premier League since Friday’s decision. It marks a change from the protests that have mounted as Arsenal has slipped to sixth in the standings and faces its lowest finish during Wenger’s reign.
“After that I had the feeling a little bit … (of) my funeral because other people speak about you and how you were,” Wenger said. “So it was a little bit interesting on that front. So I don’t need to die anymore.”
But there wasn’t an outpouring of support for Wenger during Sunday’s game against West Ham, with only a few renditions of “There’s only one Arsene Wenger” in the Emirates Stadium.
“I am happy when our fans are happy, and I’m even ready to suffer to make them happy,” Wenger said. “If sometimes they make me happy as well, I take it. 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.”
Arsenal’s priority is now the Europa League, with the semifinal first leg against Atletico Madrid on Thursday. With Arsenal out of the top four in the league, winning the Europa League is the only realistic path into the Champions League and the final in Lyon can provide Wenger with the perfect send-off.
“I will always be attached (to the club) but it’s difficult,” Wenger said. “You do not give 22 years of your life like that — and I gave the best years of my life to this club. I arrived at 46 years old and I worked seven days a week, not six, not six and a half, seven, for 22 years.
“So you cannot just walk away and say, ‘Thank you very much, bye bye.’ You cannot be on one side completely committed and then walk away like nothing happened. It’s impossible. I know that I will face that challenge, that it will be difficult for me. But I had other difficulties in my life and I hope I will get through this one as well.”
Wenger is yet to say if he will manage another team.