VATICAN CITY — Arsenal will deal with manager Arsene Wenger’s future “in our own way and in our own time,” club CEO Ivan Gazidis said Thursday.
Wenger’s contract expires at the end of this season, his 21st year with the club.
“He’s been clear and we’ve always been clear, that’s a mutual decision as to how long he’ll continue. Both need to be on the same page on that,” Gazidis told The Associated Press on the sidelines of a Vatican conference on faith and sport.
For many fans, the 66-year-old Wenger has been the only manager they’ve ever known at Arsenal. The London club is playing in the Champions League for a 19th consecutive season under Wenger, but the Frenchman has not guided Arsenal to the Premier League title since 2004.
“Arsenal is not Arsene Wenger. They’re not one in the same thing,” Gazidis said. “What Arsene has done is to capture and understand and embrace the values of the club and enhance them.
“In a football sense, he has transformed the club,” the CEO added. “But I think from a value standpoint, we’ve been doing work in our local community for 30 years, before Arsene Wenger came to the club.”
The Vatican conference, titled Sport at the Service of Humanity, was designed to highlight and strengthen the positive values of sports. It comes at a time of widespread corruption in sports, from various scandals at FIFA to Olympic ticket abuses to match-fixing in numerous leagues and games — issues that Pope Francis alluded to in the conference’s opening ceremony.
England, the home of soccer, has come under a negative spotlight lately after a newspaper sting led to several coaches being accused of transgressions.
Unguarded comments by Sam Allardyce to undercover reporters forced the termination of his contract as England coach after 67 days. Allardyce appeared to offer advice to fictitious businesspeople on how to sidestep an outlawed player transfer practice, and also to negotiate a 400,000 pound ($519,000) public-speaking contract.
The Daily Telegraph also filmed an agent accusing 10 past or current managers in England, which it did not name, of taking bribes linked to player transfers.
“Football always needs to look at itself and work out how we can improve governance within the game. Certainly the game generates enormous amounts of money now and it’s important that the center of that is a good value set,” Gazidis said. “Obviously it’s an issue of focus for anyone that’s involved in the game now.”
Twenty years ago, successful Arsenal manager George Graham was the casualty of a bribery scandal.
“There have been issues across the game over time and we need to work out how we’re going to progress through them and come out of it with a football that people can believe in,” Gazidis said.
Also about two decades ago, Gazidis was one of the founders of Major League Soccer. He was appointed deputy commissioner of the North American league in 2001.
Gazidis got a chance to look at MLS when Arsenal played in the league’s All-Star Game recently in San Jose, California.
“They’re growing at a phenomenal rate,” Gazidis said, pointing to better development of young American players as the league’s next step toward prominence.
“They have an incredible number of young kids playing the game, all across the United States from all kinds of different ethnic, racial and religious groups,” Gazidis said. “Reaching out and making sure that the best of that talent has the best opportunities to drive the league forward is their next big challenge and their huge opportunity.”
Earlier this week, Bob Bradley was named as the Premier League’s first American manager. Bradley is taking over at Swansea City and will make his debut against Arsenal on Oct. 15.
“I’ve known Bob Bradley for many, many years,” Gazidis said. “He’s a terrific manager who has put a lot into his career. But since he’s playing against us in his first game I won’t wish him too much luck off the bat.”
Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/asdampf