I said no to Real, Barca and City: Wenger

LONDON • Arsene Wenger has revealed that he rejected offers from several elite clubs during the "difficult" period Arsenal spent servicing debt accrued over the construction of the Emirates Stadium, having personally pledged his commitment to the banks who had provided the club's funding.

The Frenchman has watched a Premier League title challenge fizzle out again in anti-climax.

Yet he suggested the fans, whom he feels have been manipulated by a minority into protesting, should take into account his team's consistent involvement in the Champions League over a decade when commercial incomes were restricted by the repayment of debts.

"When we built the stadium the banks demanded I signed for five years," he said. "I did it. Do you want me to tell you how many clubs I turned down during that period? I have shown I am committed."

Ashburton Properties, a subsidiary of Arsenal Holdings, had obtained a £260 million (S$510.5 millions) loan to fund the construction work from a stadium facilities banking group - comprising the Royal Bank of Scotland, Espirito Santo Investment, Bank of Ireland, Allied Irish Banks, CIT Group Structured Finance (UK) and HSH Nordbank AG - in 2004.

Wenger suggested he offered them a guarantee he would remain at the helm for the first five years at the Emirates Stadium and ensure Arsenal met their target of Champions League football, with its associated revenue streams.

Given the manager signed contract extensions in 2004 and 2007, it appears his pledge to the banks was more of an informal commitment. But he knocked back interest from clubs such as Real Madrid - in 2009 and 2010 - Barcelona and Manchester City over that time.

"The banks wanted the technical consistency to guarantee we had a chance to pay back (the loan)," he said. "I did commit and I stayed, under very difficult circumstances. So for me to find (his critics) are reproaching me for not winning the championship during that period, I think it's a bit overboard."

THE GUARDIAN, THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 01, 2016, with the headline 'I said no to Real, Barca and City: Wenger'. Print Edition | Subscribe