Whenever a high-profile managerial vacancy arises, the name Arsene Wenger is immediately thrust back into the spotlight. In the last three months alone, the Frenchman has been linked with the PSG, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid.
Wenger spent over two decades in north London, guiding Arsenal to a trio of Premier League titles and seven FA Cups.
But, at the age of 69, does he have the appetite to take on a new challenge? One of his former charges thinks not.
Andre Santos played 33 games for the Gunners without ever winning over a critical Arsenal fanbase. Despite this, he has fond memories of his time at the Emirates, but he doesn’t believe that the man who persuaded him to move to the Premier League from Turkey in 2011, will continue his managerial career as he approaches his 70s.
“He knows how to manage a squad,” says the Brazilian left-back, who these days turns out for Figueirense in Brazil’s Second Division.
“He usually chatted to us and his training sessions were always different than the day before. He liked to transmit his experiences and he is an icon, with extraordinary intelligence. I learned a lot with him.
“He still has the skills to keep coaching a club if that’s what he wants to. But I doubt he does.”
Back in December 2011, Santos had established himself as an Arsenal regular. However, a Champions League clash in Greece at the Georgios Karaiskakis stadium proved to be a crucial turning point in his Gunners career.
Having already qualified, Arsenal fielded their reserves against a desperate Olympiacos in Athens in the final fixture of the group stage, with the Greek side requiring a win in order to advance to the round of 16. André Santos, who was a regular in the Gunners’ starting XI at that time, was trying to impress a tough to please fan-base, but a serious ankle injury sustained in the 51st minute made the task even more difficult.
The Brazilian left back was in his first season as a Gunner after signing for £6.3 million from Fenerbahce in the summer transfer window. However, the resulting three month lay off effectively spelt the end of his time as an Arsenal player.
“It was a difficult time of my life, although we, as players, get used to injuries. They can happen,” says Santos.
“When you are at a big club like Arsenal, three months is a long period, and that’s when they decided to sign (Nacho) Monreal to replace me.”
When he returned from injury in March, the then Brazilian international struggled to re-establish himself in Arsène Wenger’s plans. He spent five consecutive Premier League matches on the bench, against Newcastle, Everton, Aston Villa, QPR and Manchester City.
The lack of minutes on the pitch, allied to a £7 million offer to return to Fenerbahce, made him decide that it was time to quit north London.
“I went to talk to Wenger and express my dissatisfaction with the situation. I told him that I wanted to leave, but he decided not to release me, since he said he would give me some chances.”
However, things didn’t work out as he was led to believe.
“After some time without playing, I talked to him again and told him that this wasn’t fair and that I definitely wanted to leave. That’s when he decided to let me go and that Arsenal would pay my entire wages while I was loaned,” adds the 35-year-old.
Defensive struggles and a dream that came true
As a left back, Santos has always been hyped by his offensive prowess. It’s always been easy for him to run up the field and assist with pinpoint crosses or even scoring with rocket-shots with his left foot. On the other hand, his defensive attributes have never been considered his strongest ones.
“Almost all Brazilian left backs are more offensive than defensive because that’s how we usually play in Brazil. Undoubtedly playing in Wenger’s formation (in his latter days at Arsenal) would benefit my game in many ways,” he adds, thinking back to the 5-3-2 used by the Frenchman during his final season at the Emirates Stadium.
Santos arrived at Arsenal as a key player for Fenerbahce, where he lifted two trophies: the Turkish Super Cup in 2009-10 and the Turkish League in 2010-11.
“Arsenal’s interest came to my knowledge through my agent and then, after a couple of days, Wenger called me and said that he wanted me in the squad. Although I didn’t speak English very well at that time, I understood that he used to follow me, so I was pretty stoked to go to Arsenal.”
“Every player can only dream of playing in the Premier League. It is the best and the most charming league in the world. Playing in a high tier club in England was a dream that came true.”
And one of his biggest challenges was to keep the tradition of signing important Brazilian names going.
“I knew the Premier League and Arsenal, especially because of Wenger, who was really well-known. I’d always watch the games when I could and there were plenty of Brazilians in the club before, such like Julio Baptista, Gilberto Silva, Edu… and knowing that Arsenal was one of the richest clubs in the world made me want to sign for them”.