Eight months on from the day he waved an emotional goodbye to Arsenal Football Club, Arsene Wenger looks at least eight years younger.
Released from the stresses and strains of day-to-day management, the former Gunners boss has been busy globetrotting; doing whatever he wants, whenever he wants to do it.
And given the healthy glow of his appearance, retirement looks pretty well on him.
Yet in the run-up to Christmas the man himself told us he’s not ready to take a permanent vacation.
News links with Bayern Munich, AC Milan and Real Madrid instantly sprung up, but the chitter-chatter proved cheap.
Not even Thierry Henry’s sacking as manager of Monaco is likely to see Wenger return to his old club, with the fallen Ligue 1 giants reportedly set to replace Wenger’s former player with Henry’s predecessor Leonardo Jardim.
Now, almost four weeks on from the January 1 date Wenger himself predicted he’d be back in employment by, the Frenchman remains stranded on the shelf.
So how likely is it that he’ll now get a ‘no deal’ and call it a day?
Well, the prospect of Wenger being without a managers’ job at club or international level by August 1 2019 is currently the shortest price favourite at 2/1 on the best football betting sites.
Considering he is in a position where he can afford to be picky, this might actually be a shrewd gamble.
Age may be against him, but Wenger’s aura and employability won’t be so far diminished by August 2nd that he’s viewed as a has-been – and he will be aware of that.
Don’t rule out the possibility that Wenger’s last big challenge is still nine months or a year away from fruition.
If, on the other hand, Wenger does make a return to football before then, where will it be?
As with all job discussions it’s best to look at where he has the strongest personal links, so the 20/1 (Unibet) on AC Milan being his next port of call is a tempting price.
New CEO Ivan Gazidis worked pretty harmoniously with the 69-year-old, until he set about revamping the backroom set-up (and ultimately Wenger’s exit) so providing there’s no burning resentment it’s a possibility they could be reunited.
My hunch is that the Gunners legend may hold a mild grudge against Gazidis that deters him, but that doesn’t mean Milan won’t chance their arm.
The Gennaro Gattuso experiment is going OK, but not especially smoothly.
In club football I just don’t see Wenger rocking up at Real Madrid (10/1), Barcelona (10/1) or Bayern Munich (7/2).
These are true heavyweights on the world scene that may have coveted him at his peak, but with the pick of the planet’s best coaches from the current generation, it’s hard to envisage an approach.
Wenger’s knowledge is outstanding, he can handle being at a big club, and his brand of football is pleasing on the eye – but in those board rooms you wonder if he’s perceived as yesterday’s man.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, so Bayern Munich are the most likely should they dispense with the hapless Niko Kovac.
It still feels a stretch though, as Bayern can cherry pick anybody they want and fans may clamour for a younger, more fashionable choice.
The same scenario applies at PSG, who have drifted to 18/1 (Unibet) in the market, although it’s not unfeasible that Wenger could join as a technical or sporting director above head coach Thomas Tuchel.
To my mind, Wenger’s best prospects of getting back a job before next August lie in the international game.
He has never managed the hopes and dreams of a nation before, or been part of a World Cup as a coach, so surely that is the one ambition left to tick off his footballing bucket list.
What about his native France?
Wenger would be a good choice but faces enormously stiff competition from the likes of Zinedine Zidane for that post.
My own inclination is that a part of his heart lies in a return to Japan.
He moved to Arsenal from Grampus Eight, and has always spoken extremely affectionately about the country, and how interested he would be in making a fairytale return.
He is 10/1 with Unibet to take over any J-League team, but that feels too much of a come down.
There is not a lot of interest from punters in Wenger taking over the Japan national team (20/1 with 888Sport) - possibly because they are in safe hands with current head coach Hajime Moriyasu – but that is the post I can see him occupying.
If Wenger was offered a contract ahead of 2022 in Qatar, I’m far from convinced he’d turn it down.
Leading a nation he adores into a World Cup Finals would be an experience he deserves to taste.
My selection would be to hold your nerve for the 2/1 on ‘No Job’ before August, but looking towards a national team post is a gamble that also has merit.
I have a hunch he’ll be involved at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and not from the TV studio.
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