Arsène Wenger has lost faith in one of his guiding principles and called for financial fair play to be scrapped. The Arsenal manager says clubs have found a way to bluff around Uefa’s regulations and it has effectively rendered them unenforceable. He feels that if the Premier League is to “remain the best league in the world” the decision must be taken to revert to no financial limits.
Wenger reflected on a wild summer transfer window in which he suggested that Liverpool had most likely tapped up Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain before taking him from Arsenal for an initial £35m on 31 August. Four days earlier, the midfielder had played for Arsenal in the club’s 4-0 defeat at Anfield. Wenger said he did not know whether Liverpool had spoken to Oxlade-Chamberlain in the hours leading up to kick-off. He hoped they had not.
Wenger did not make his comments in an angry or accusatory fashion; they were underpinned by realism. In short, tapping up is a part of the modern game. Everybody does it. But Wenger was less willing to shrug off what he sees as the holes in FFP.
He was asked whether he had a view on the complaint made to Uefa by the La Liga president, Javier Tebas, about the summer spending of Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City. PSG broke the world transfer record with their £198m purchase of Neymar from Barcelona while they took Kylian Mbappé from Monaco on a season‑long loan with an option to buy him for £166m. Uefa are investigating PSG but not City, who have threatened Tebas with legal action. Wenger did have a view and it was strident.
“Financial fair play raises new questions,” Wenger said. “I always did plead for it. Today, I am not convinced that we can maintain it. Football is maybe only at the start of a huge financial investment. It has become the most powerful sport in the world. It means do we have to open the door completely to investments? It is a question we have to raise because, aAt the moment, it looks like we have created rules that cannot be respected. There is nothing worse than when you create rules that are not respected.
“Maybe we are at the crossroads and we have to think, do we open it with complete freedom to investment for people like the Chinese and Americans, who want to invest here [in England]? If you want to remain the best league in the world, that is certainly the way we have to go.
“Do I want to get rid of financial pair play? I think so because there are too many legal ways to get around it. The question, at least, has to be raised. At the moment, it looks like you can buy clubs in China and get the players there, and buy them in other clubs, then get them, after, here. You can get around [FFP]. Am I convinced that, at the moment, the rules are strong enough to make it respected? I’m not sure.”
Wenger’s remarks on tapping-up came as he explained why he was in favour of the summer transfer window closing before the start of the Premier League season. “You sit there before the games and in players’ minds, they have no clarity,” Wenger said. “Are they in? Are they out? Are they half in? Are they half out? Are they tapped up in the afternoon of the game by people who want to get them out?”
Wenger was asked whether any player in his dressing-room at Liverpool on the Sunday before last had been tapped up in advance of the game or on the day of it. It was clear that the question related to Oxlade-Chamberlain. “I don’t know,” Wenger replied.
Was it his suspicion? “Have they been tapped up?” Wenger said. “Of course. But on the day of a game? I don’t think so. I hope not. But it’s inevitable. France played against Holland on the last day of the transfer window. Do you really think that not one French player or Dutch player had phone-calls in the afternoon about do they move or not? You’re not naive enough to believe that.”
Wenger insisted that he did not regret starting with Oxlade-Chamberlain in the Liverpool game. “If I am a football player, I can perform even if Liverpool is in my head,” he said. “I don’t think that should stop you to perform. Did it? I think he was not worse than any other player on the football pitch.”