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Arsène Wenger: “Brexit is a spanner in the works.”

Speaking in an exclusive interview with France Football, Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger discussed the consequences of Brexit and more. In full.

What is your reaction to the vote in the United Kingdom in favour of an exit from the European Union?

It worries me, it shocks me too. Nobody knows how exactly this is going to translate into a practical plan. Nobody really knows where we are going. But the shock, is that we discover that in England there are a majority of people who want to leave the European Union. It is even more flagrant when you live in London, the excellent example of cosmopolitan life.

There are in fact two England’s one that voted to remain and another that voted to leave.

What is also concrete is the fall in the pound. That could make English clubs less active from the next summer transfer window onwards…

But it was expected. I spoke with a lot of financial analysts and not a single one of them knows exactly where we are headed. From a political perspective, England has lost its leader and at the moment she does not have another. This instability is worrying. Today, the English are in the dark on a political level. Europe could also falter.

If we put this into a football context, does it mean that wages will be lower and competition will therefore be even stronger?

Yes, certainly. The players will see their wages come down a bit and the competition with Germany, for example, will be stronger. But that was one of the risks of the job and that worries me less. England still has a good amount of financial resources. There is a margin in terms of the money that will come in again this year.

But, in my opinion, it is overwhelmingly in the long-term that there are questions to be answered. The way in which England will leave the European Union will dictate the future of the Premier League. If the league becomes less attractive, the broadcasters will offer less money for the rights, club revenues will decrease and the Premier League will suffer the consequences. There lies the problem.

For the next transfer window, could we imagine that Spanish, German or French clubs will do their dealings in England to take advantage of the strong Euro?

The big English clubs have the means to keep hold of their biggest assets. The most important thing lies elsewhere. Currently, the league is seen as the most attractive one and that image could disappear. In the short term, clubs that are quite strong will be able to resist the competition but England is in the process of building a dominant Premier League.

We thought that one day the best players from Real and Barca would say: “I also want to go to England because everyone is over there.” All of that is now uncertain and Brexit is a spanner in the works. It will have consequences, not in the very short term, but in the long term, yes.

Is it not likely to strengthen the supposed temptation of the English to isolate themselves from the rest of Europe?

In a time where this second a guy in Beijing knows what is going on in London, it is quite futile to want to rattle the cage of isolationism. It is a construct that does not correspond to reality as much as England currently sits on 24 billion from foreign investors who compensate a little for the large trade deficit. We are in a period of uncertainty. There are people who are much better qualified than I who could talk about this problem.

But even they appear to be completely in the dark. Even the politicians that I have met with do not know what is going to happen and it is this that is terrible. It could also have a destabilising effect and act as a snowball for the rest of Europe. Other countries could try to take the same road. There have already been temptations…

But when a majority of British people openly said no to Europe…

My impression is not that the English do not want Europe. In reality, they do not want Europe as it currently is. There is certainly a lot of confusion for a large number of people who voted to leave. Their message was more: “I do not want Europe in its current form.”

It is a feeling that is shared in a lot of countries. Unconsciously or naturally, everyone understands that we can no longer live in an isolated manner in a globalised economy. But there is a form of discontentment towards all the problems that we have not been able to solve. And that came out too at the referendum.

Is there not also a danger that Brexit could make the international governing bodies more fragile?

I have always been convinced that the authority of FIFA and UEFA was important for the unity of football in general. I was extremely shocked by all the scandals surrounding FIFA, because they diminished their authority. And that could also harm unity in football.

There is however still a big absence of governance and leadership at UEFA, today, after the suspension of Michel Platini for 4 years…

Yes, sadly. This needs to stop as soon as possible. It is important to have a central authority that maintains the unity of our sport. There must not one day be a Super League organised by an independent organisation where the aims are solely commercial. There must always be, at the base, a desire to improve the quality of football. The financials must follow, but it must not be the driving force at the beginning. UEFA and FIFA must guarantee this. It is for this reason that what happened at FIFA is very serious.

Many have already discussed the possibility of an exception to say that footballers shall be accorded to particular rights in order not to impact too much and to preserve the free movement of footballers…

It is always intellectually difficult to defend such a principle. And to claim that football should be afforded even more privileges that do not apply to other activities when football is already very privileged. A lot of jobs are international. Why should we prioritise football? When a rule exists, it should apply to all professions otherwise there will always be demands that are made.

England therefore needs the Europe of football?

Certainly. There is a great example: when England left the European Championships for five years (1985), she worked hard to come back to the level of the others. I think that England needs Europe, it is indispensable. And Europe needs England.

Don’t forget that it is the English who created this port. It is for that reason today that everyone is a bit groggy. I ask myself if the England players (who lost to Iceland) were themselves not left a little groggy by the whole thing.

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