Scottish Daily Mail
STARS ALIGN FOR PURSUIT OF WENGER
AS WE know, Gareth Southgate has been appointed England manager for the next four games. England fans will be hoping he eventually ends up taking charge of five.
That wish has nothing to do with Southgate, as unpleasant as that may sound. It has everything to do with the fact that a five-game run for the man parachuted in to replace Sam Allardyce would probably mean the FA had landed the one coach they have coveted for so long.
Arsene Wenger. For years, the Arsenal manager has been in the peripheral vision of the FA. Always there but always out of reach, tied to Arsenal and a succession of contracts he has always made it clear he would not break.
Finally, though, the stars have aligned, albeit in a pretty gruesome way. Suddenly, Wenger finds himself at the centre of a perfect FA storm.
Out of contract at the end of this season, the Premier League’s anglicised Frenchman is suddenly very available indeed and if the FA do not manage to appoint him this time then we can only presume Wenger just does not want the job at all.
Arsenal would fight hard to keep Wenger. Despite the constant chatter about his enduring suitability for a 21st year at the club, chief executive Ivan Gazidis very much wants the 66–year-old to stay.
That is how it should be, too. Candidates for an international manager’s post should not fall like fruit from trees.
Here, though, is a chance that nobody at Wembley could have anticipated. Wenger would have headed the list in the summer had the FA not needed somebody immediately. Now that Allardyce’s short time in charge has unravelled so dreadfully, the Wembley powerbrokers have the chance to turn a calamity into an opportunity.
Wenger is the outstanding candidate. He is not English but the debate south of the border seems to have moved beyond that point now.
The squad Roy Hodgson, and now Allardyce, left behind is in need of moving forwards quickly if the World Cup in Russia in 2018 is not to become another tournament written off within a fortnight of it starting.
England have a relatively young group and youth is malleable. Wenger, despite some of his failings at Arsenal in recent years, has a proven record of motivating, educating and improving young players.
Wenger has also lived and worked in England for two decades. When Sven-Goran Eriksson arrived from Italy in 2001, he was a foreign coach in every way. Fabio Capello arrived seven years later barely able to speak English.
Wenger is totally different. He has not learned all he knows in the Premier League but much of it and the rest of the boxes — ability, experience, respectability — all but tick themselves.
It is not always wise to ask players for their views on matters such as these but, still, it is hard to imagine any of the current England squad not having their interest piqued by the thought of Wenger walking through the door at St George’s Park next June. Beyond him, the field is hardly packed with strength and depth. England are back to where they were in the summer, only with Allardyce removed from the list. Talk post-Euro 2016 of Jurgen Klinsmann and Glenn Hoddle was only that. Neither man featured on the FA’s list and neither will this time. Eddie Howe is popular inside and outside the governing body and with good reason. Many hope he takes the post one day. But the Bournemouth manager is close to FA technical director Dan Ashworth and, though he has never been interviewed formally, the two men share the view that it is too early for a man who let it be known in August that he had been relieved the phone had not rung post-Hodgson.
Ashworth and his chief executive Martin Glenn will consider again the merits of Steve Bruce and maybe even Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers. But neither man occupies the same page as a coach like Wenger, especially given the alarming nature of England’s need.
The FA should be able to elicit feedback from Wenger easily enough. They will probably know already. He is either interested or he isn’t. What must be avoided, meanwhile, is the next four games (Malta, Slovenia, Spain and Scotland) somehow turning in to an audition for Southgate. The 46-year-old must not get this job.
Scotland could have a keen say in that, come their contest on November 11 — Gordon Strachan will surely have his charges pumped up — but the clear point here is that this is not a job long-term for Southgate. It is a job for the only outstanding candidate and all of England seem to be of the opinion that is Arsene Wenger.