Arsene Wenger says Premier League will be ‘handicapped’ on restart

Former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has shared his thoughts on the challenges faced by the world of football as a result of the coronavirus pandemic in an interview with The Athletic

Wenger famously managed Arsenal for 22 years from 1996 to 2018. In his time at the club, he led the Gunners to 3 Premier League titles and 7 FA Cups.

He is the most successful manager in Arsenal’s history and his biggest achievement at Arsenal is surely being at the helm of the club in 2003/04 when Arsenal’s Invincibles went the whole season unbeaten and lifted the title.

Wenger is now FIFA’s Head of Global Football Development and in that role, he has been thinking about what football in a post-coronavirus world will look like. He has talked about football being played in the absence of fans, financial inequality in the sport and racism.

The Frenchman is famous for being one of the deep thinkers of the great game and has always articulated his views to perfection. Based on his most recent interview, it is clear that not a thing has changed on that front.

On football being played in empty stadiums without fans:

“What makes it special in England is the way people react to the game. It is the best country in the world for the way the fans respond to what’s happening on the pitch. That’s why I think it will be the most handicapped championship without that. You realise that football without fans is not real. You have two elements in football games: the players and the fans who go to the stadiums, and people who watch it on television. So you have divided the first section if the spectators have to stay at home. Only one part of the spectacle is the players. You realise how much you miss the other part.”

“For the game itself, one of the first things I noticed is the lower teams without fans have a bigger handicap than the higher teams. In Germany, for example, you can see that in home games against bigger opponents, there is an element missing — that tension, that belief, that motivation that is coming from outside the pitch. You see that the internal motivation of the club is not big enough against the big clubs. The bigger teams have more quality, so a way to reduce the difference between the teams is, of course, to have the support of your fans and get that intensity into the game. Let’s not forget it influences the referee and the opposition team as well.”

On each team being permitted to make five substitutions in a game:

“It gives more opportunities to rest players when you have a congested schedule. It gives more tactical flexibility to the managers to change things during the game.”

On financial inequality in football:

I think it will not change a lot economically for the top clubs. The real problem of the game is not the top level. The real problem of our game is the lower leagues.”

On the role that football can play to tackle social issues like racism:

“Football can show the way to the rest of society how we should behave. We speak a lot about racism now. Football is based on merit only — not on who you are, where you come from and how you look. That’s a good way to teach the world how we should behave. Sport, in general, is a great leader in that way.”

On whether he is optimistic about how football will evolve in a post-coronavirus world?

“An optimist is a happy idiot. A pessimist is an unhappy idiot. I am an optimist. The world will move forward. There is a lot to do and hopefully, I can contribute a little bit.”

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