LONDON • Arsene Wenger knows what it is like to be a wanted man.
While the rumour mill continues to churn with the latest speculation over a deal to become the world's highest-paid manager, the Frenchman confirmed that he once held talks with Manchester United over the possibility of succeeding Alex Ferguson.
The Red Devils represent Wenger's biggest rivals during his 22-year stay at Arsenal. Either United or Arsenal won every Premier League title in his first eight seasons.
Yet things might have turned out differently if Ferguson had not made a U-turn on his decision to stand down as manager after the 2001-02 Premier League season. United spoke to potential replacements following the Scot's announcement in 2001 but Wenger could not leave the Gunners.
"Yes, I met (former United chairman) Martin Edwards," Wenger told a press conference ahead of Arsenal's trip to Old Trafford in the league today.
"Many people came to see me but I was always loyal to my club."
Ferguson eventually retired at the end of the 2012-13 campaign.
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Wenger, who previously revealed that he had rejected Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester City, added: "Arsenal is the love of my life. I've turned many, many clubs down to stay here."
Former Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein told Sky Sports last week that Paris Saint-Germain and England were also among those who "wanted him at some stage", adding that he has been fielding calls from clubs asking to get in touch with Wenger since he announced that he would be stepping down at the end of the season.
And according to The Mirror, an unnamed Chinese Super League club has already offered Wenger an annual salary of more than £18 million (S$32 million). It is understood that Marcello Lippi earns £18 million annually as the China national team coach, with no manager in world football earning more.
But Wenger, reportedly on £8 million a year at Arsenal, only has his sights on today's clash and he is unlikely to play a first-choice side with the second leg of the Europa League semi-final against Atletico Madrid looming on Thursday.
"I don't know what kind of reception I will get but we will be focused on winning," he said. "We always had some great battles in 22 years."
He is set to face a side today that includes former Gunners star Alexis Sanchez, who left to join United in the January transfer window. The forward's presence in the opposing team for the first time will be a painful reminder to Arsenal fans of Wenger's inability in recent years to convince many of his best players to buy into his project.
"It's strange for me to see him in a different shirt because he had a strong bond with the club and he was here for a few years," admitted the 68-year-old, who managed the Chile international for 31/2 years.
Sanchez has endured a tough start at Old Trafford. But he scored in United's 2-1 FA Cup semi-final win over Tottenham Hotspur last weekend and United manager Jose Mourinho is confident fans will see a much better player next term.
"Next season after pre-season, after being comfortable and adapted, he's going to be great for us," said the Portuguese as he seeks to guide United to a second-placed finish.
Former United midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who was part of the Sanchez deal, could also face his old team-mates. The Armenian has not played since suffering a knee injury during Arsenal's Europa League quarter-final return leg draw at CSKA Moscow.
"If he's ready, I'll play him," Wenger said. "I don't know yet (whether I will rest players ahead of the Atletico game). Maybe it's better to play. I will have to see how everybody responds."
Sixth-placed Arsenal are almost nailed on to finish out of the top four, and winning the Europa League represents their only way back into the Champions League.
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