As close as Arsene Wenger ever came to giving a half-time hairdryer treatment was when he scrunched up a paper cup, hurling it towards the bin. The cup, like his mis-firing Arsenal stars, missed its target. Wenger walked over, picked it up and placed it in the bin, considerately. He couldn’t have been that angry, then.
But generally speaking, the Frenchman never favoured the stick over the carrot. When his players returned for half-time, he would let them reflect on their first-half for 10 minutes, before using the last few moments to give short, concise instructions. That’s just the way he is. Focuses on the good, rather than the bad. Would rather build you up, than break you down.
Perhaps that’s why My Life In Red And White has been so highly anticipated - there are plenty of people that he has an opportunity to... if not break down, then perhaps go into detail like we’ve never heard before.
How could a man so mild-mannered – a man who was abused at train stations and the subject of planes at banners while in his career-defining job – not have some interesting home truths to tell? What does he think of Jose Mourinho? Of Sir Alex Ferguson? Of the players that left, and why they left?
Wenger’s very position at Arsenal created friction around him. Mourinho seemed envious of the reputation that Wenger held, while Ferguson baulked at the idea of a professorial foreigner challenging him for titles. Even Arsenal CEO Ivan Gazidis was opposed against his manager in a power struggle; many of his players left citing disagreements over the direction that Arsene was steering them towards, while others, on the cusp of greatness – Messi, Ronaldo, Ibrahimovic and more – chose not to fulfil their destiny in Wenger’s team.
My Life In Red And White is about none of these people or situations. It refrains from mentioning Jose Mourinho by name. The larger-than-life figures that Arsene Wenger locked horns with throughout his extraordinary life and career are nothing but background characters; as good as page numbers. We still don’t even know why and how he left Arsenal – and he’s not going to tell us.
“I prefer to be private about that, because it would not be too nice for the club,” Wenger told FourFourTwo, when he sat down with us for a long chat for our latest issue. “I want to keep what was good.”
History has taught us to expect nothing else. Wenger famously never really considered the opposition when he set up his teams. Instead, his coaching methods relied on the instilling of belief in his players, in their abilities. To this day, the Frenchman cites the Brazil World Cup winners of 50 years ago as the greatest side to have ever played the beautiful game – and he is truly unshakable in his faith that he could elevate any mortals to that level, simply by working hard and trusting in each other.
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He mentioned when he chatted to FFT lately that even Thierry Henry didn’t believe in his ability to score goals. He explains in his book that he learned to play football in teams that played in different colour clothes – so you had to look up and recognise your teammates for who they were. He never really stopped, in that sense.
Honestly? Opaqueness has never been this refreshing. It’s honestly nice that this book, this interview and this PR tour from Wenger has just been about the game and the human connections he made along the way. The moments that made Wenger, the good times and the achievements. In a world of sensationalism, public spats and calling out old foes, we can all learn something from that.
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