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English Premiership

Arsene skipped Deadline Day to meet Pope

WENGER-POPELONDON, September 12- Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has revealed he opted to spend transfer deadline day in Rome as he had a long-standing appointment to meet the Pope Francis at the Vatican.

Wenger was criticized for taking part in a charity football match in the Italian capital on a day when so much transfer activity takes place for top Premier League clubs, but he still managed to sign Danny Welbeck from Manchester United despite his day trip to Italy.

The Frenchman suggested the fact he was out of bed early to catch his flight to Rome helped him to set up the deal for Welbeck, but it was clear that his eagerness to have an audience with the head of the Catholic church was important to him.

“Meeting the Pope was an experience I did not want to miss,” Wenger told reporters, of a match that was supported by Pope Francis. “I am a Catholic, so it was an experience, and one I accepted a long time ago.

“On top of that it was a game for peace and multi-religion understanding. I thought today where we are a bit in front of an international religious war [in Gaza], it was a very important game.

Pope Francis has a long history of supporting Copa Libertadores champions San Lorenzo.

“He is a great person. He shows humility and is available to meet for everybody, has a word with everybody.

“He is also a football fan. He is a supporter of San Lorenzo in Argentina. You cannot be born in Argentina and not be a football fan. He spoke with many Argentinians, so I wanted to be discreet and say, ‘It was nice to meet you and bye-bye.’”

Wenger’s comments suggesting the Welbeck transfer may not have happened if it were not for his departure from England on deadline day led some to speculate that Gunners officials had pushed for the Manchester United striker in the absence of the manager.

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Yet Wenger was quick to dampen down that suggestion, as he confirmed he gave the final green light for the deal to proceed.

“At first it was a loan deal, but when they said it was a permanent transfers I agreed,” confirmed Wenger. “We would also have looked at loan deal with an option to buy.

“We are in 2014 and you can always be in touch with everybody even when you travel. The advantage of that day was I had to get up at 6 o’clock in the morning for my flight and I was available the whole day.”


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