London Evening Standard
Ahead of one of the biggest European games of Arsene Wenger’s reign, the Arsenal manager has support from Franz Beckenbauer.
The 70-year-old is an unlikely ally given that Bayern Munich, the club he is so much a part of, will be trying to push Arsenal nearer towards the Champions League exit door at the Emirates tomorrow.
The Gunners’ record of having reached the last 16 for 15 years in a row is in danger following surprise defeats to Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiakos.
Losing 3-2 at home to the Greeks, a team who had never won in England in half a century of trying, led to serious questions being asked of Wenger and, in particular, his decision to start David Ospina in goal ahead of Petr Cech.
However, Beckenbauer puts Wenger in the same bracket as Bayern boss Pep Guardiola, as well as the Frenchman’s fiercest rival, Jose Mourinho.
And when I ask Bayern’s honorary president if he agrees with those Arsenal fans who believe the manager is past his sell-by date, his response is emphatic. “Things have not gone wrong with Arsene Wenger. No, no. Wenger is still, how do you say? A legend.”
Beckenbauer, a three-time European Cup winner with Bayern in the Seventies, agrees Arsenal were “poor” against Zagreb but sees their performance against Manchester United two weeks ago as a true measure of their abilities. He says: “I saw that match and I was very impressed, particularly in the first half, when they led 3-0. It was a demonstration of modern football.”
Across seven seasons, Liverpool’s new boss led Borussia Dortmund to the Bundesliga title twice — finishing eight and 10 points ahead of Bayern respectively — the German Cup and the Champions League Final. Liverpool’s owners, FSG, hope Klopp can repeat that magic at Anfield, where it is 25 years since the club last paraded the title.
“I can understand totally that Liverpool have hired Klopp because he is in the top five coaches in the world,” says Beckenbauer. “He’s also a very nice, charming and sympathetic man. So he is the ideal coach, or manager, as you call it. There are a lot of really very great coaches: Mourinho, [Carlo] Ancelotti, Wenger, Guardiola and I would rate Klopp as one of them.
“Klopp is perfect. He likes to talk to the players and there are not so many coaches left that like to do that. He will be an attacking coach. And he will make them click from defence. You get the ball in defence and you counter-attack and be in the position to put pressure on the opposition defence. Klopp is very good at that. His way of playing is very, very flexible.”
Italian Ancelotti was the other leading candidate for the Liverpool job — and Beckenbauer is surprised there are so few English managers in the Premier League. Sam Allardyce’s appointment by Sunderland last week took the figure up to six, but 12 of the Bundesliga’s 18 managers are German.
While his own club have a Spanish boss, Beckenbauer says: “In Germany, we still have good domestic coaches but it is amazing that in England they are always looking to foreign coaches. Chelsea have Mourinho, Manchester United have Louis van Gaal, Arsenal have Wenger, Manchester City have Manuel Pellegrini and now Liverpool have gone for Klopp. I could not have imagined it when I was playing. In those days, there were only English players, English coaches. Now it’s different. You have foreign players, coaches and investors.”
Indeed, even the Germans are beginning to think they should look abroad, particularly when it comes to club ownership. At present, Germany’s 50+1 rule ensures that members hold the majority stake in a club.
“I don’t know how long it will exist,” says Beckenbauer. “There are some rumours, and not only rumours, that some [foreign] investors are keen to buy German clubs. The 50+1 rule may be against the European rules, so the European community may have to decide what the future will be.”
However, for Beckenbauer the immediate priority is how the club will perform in the Champions League.
“In the group phase, it’s not very difficult because of the teams in the group,” says Beckenbauer. “They will reach the knockout stage, then it really starts. Bayern’s chances of winning depend on what happens in the quarter-final and the semi-final. And that depends on the opponent you get. The last two years we played brilliantly and then we had two bad games [against Barcelona and Real Madrid]. Then you end up watching the Champions League on TV. That’s the problem.”
While Beckenbauer’s attention will be on the Emirates tomorrow, the club on the other side of north London have already caught his eye. The former sweeper visited Tottenham in June before they took part in the pre-season Audi Cup tournament in Munich.
“I was very impressed,” he says. “I went to White Hart Lane and they showed me the plans for the new stadium. They also showed me the academy, which was fantastic. I never saw such facilities. And then I realised they have the same set-up to bring in young players as in Manchester. That’s the future. Tottenham is a good team but it takes time to build players.”