Arsene Wenger served as Arsenal manager from 1996 until 2018. He is still loved and respected both in north London and over the globe. Recently, he gave an interview to French publication RTL. Here are some highlights from the Arsene Wenger RTL interview.
The Best Highlights From The Arsene Wenger RTL Interview
Early Arsenal Career
The shock in your career was in 1996 – you become the foreigner in the Premier League. You went from unknown to ubiquitous almost instantly. Was that surprising?
Well yes because there was this image in England that foreign managers couldn’t be successful. There had only been two or three before me.
They didn’t want any foreigners and there were tons of theories about how a foreign manager could never win anything: ‘It’s too hard’.
I came in incognito, from Japan. Which I loved. I did enjoy coming back to Europe, but I fully anticipated going back if it didn’t work out.
And that’s where we see the famous stress resistance. You revolutionised English football, how? Nutrition, training, attention to detail.
I always try to make it, so people love football. As 13 and 14-year olds, kids are drawn to the playground, to play the game, to love the game.
When it becomes a job, it becomes about ‘having to’ rather than wanting to. You ‘have’ to train, you ‘have’ to win, you ‘have’ to score. At that point it becomes less fun.
I always tried to develop a philosophy around the desire to play the game. To cultivate that desire.
You won the title unbeaten in 2003-04. What was the secret recipe?
Effectively we were unbeaten for a year and a half. 49 games. It’s an interesting detail because when we won the title in 2002 I told the press my dream was to win the title unbeaten.
I got lambasted as pretentious, arrogant etcetera. We lost the title the next season to Manchester United. In 2003/04, I asked the players why we didn’t win the title. They said, ‘it’s your fault’. I asked why.
They said: ‘you put too much pressure on us.’ And it’s interesting because I told them the only reason I said it was because I truly believed it. And then they did it. Which proves two things.
One, sometimes we don’t put the level of ambition high enough. We don’t dare, we’re scared. But you must set the bar as high as possible. Two, sometimes you must plant the seed and wait for it to grow.
And how do you keep the concentration after 10, 20, 30 matches?
That’s the difficult bit. Very difficult. Man is easily satisfied with what he has. The team needs to constantly be fed new ambitions, new targets. ‘What is your next level?’
We all tend to wallow in comfort. We don’t want the pain. Unfortunately, without the pain you don’t reach a higher level. Without making the conscious decision to ask yourself: ‘What am I aspiring to? Where do I want to go? What is my goal?’ You stay where you are.
It has nothing to do with elite sporting ability. Elite sport is not made for everyone. There’s a personality expert I work with and the key factor isn’t the intensity of the motivation, it’s the endurance of the motivation. You could call it tenacity.
It’s who can go Monday to Sunday, not just Tuesday to Thursday.
Let’s go back to the arrival at Arsenal. Lots of animosity between England and France at the time but one meeting changed your life.
Yes. David Dein, who brought me to Arsenal. Second of January 1989, I was in Turkey and had to fly via England. At the time, men and women weren’t allowed in the same stand at Arsenal, which is unbelievable to say now, the women sat with the visiting fans. I was still smoking back then and got a light at half-time from David Dein’s wife.
We started to talk, and that night I was invited to dinner and since he had a boat on the Cote D’Azur and I was at Monaco – we stayed in touch. He often came to matches in Monaco and told me: ‘This is interesting what you’re doing here, I’d like to hire you one day.’
I met Peter Hill-Wood when I went to Japan who expressed reservations about hiring a foreigner in England. During my time in Japan they called me and said they wanted me for sure, and that’s how it happened.
[David Dein joins the conversation on the phone]
Christine Kelly: David Dein, you hired Arsene Wenger at Arsenal yes?
David Dein: Yes, I can confirm this!
Arsene Wenger: David! What are you doing here?!
Dein: Hey Arsene!
Wenger: You really are a magician!
Dein: You say that but you’re the one with the magic wand, as always Arsene.
Kelly: David is actually in between two flights here so quite difficult to speak.
Wenger: Yes of course. I must say, he’s an incredible logistician. You cannot imagine this, he’s a one-man travel agency.
Kelly: David, what are Arsene’s qualities as a coach
Dein: Quite simply, he’s an incredibly intelligent person who knows football like the back of his hand. He has incredible integrity, he’s organised, motivated and has a great sense of humour.
What people don’t know is that Arsene can be incredibly funny, an evening with him is never, ever boring. I hope he’ll continue to use his magic wand in whatever he goes on to do.
Let’s talk about your footballing philosophy. How do you see football nowadays and generally?
My vision is that normally you need to win and win with style. Winning should be the result of the quality of your playing style and how you express yourself on the pitch.
All my life, people have told me that we need to win on Saturday. As a coach, I know that – but how?
I like to think that the paying fan wakes up the morning of the game and thinks ‘ah yes, my team is playing today’ and he will be transported to a more beautiful world than his daily routine.
I like to set myself the ambition to give him this hope, this excitement about coming to see the team play – even if I know I will let him down sometimes.
You can’t be a coach if you don’t have this ambition. Otherwise you stay in something mediocre. You must want to please people with football.
What, for you, is the definition of a good coach or manager?
Someone who manages to get the most out of his squad. From a collective expression point of view and in terms of results.
The best coach in the league isn’t necessarily the one who wins the title. No. But nobody can measure this. You can’t. You can’t measure a coach because you can’t measure if he’s managed to reach the full potential of the squad.
That’s why my ultimate ambition was to win a league title unbeaten. Because even if someone beats me at that, they can’t do it that much better.
You have to manage the players, the press, the board, the fans…
There are three main elements to management. The first is the style of play and the results. The second is the individual development of the players. Some people work incredibly hard on the players without seeing the results.
Thirdly, the structure and values you want to integrate into the club. This is more of a moral responsibility and boils down to your values. It can give your club a new dimension on a global scale.
You often talk about values. What do you mean? What are values in football? Values in a coach?
Values in football are about finding all that is beautiful about team sport. It’s self-expression in a collective setting. Shared pleasure over individualism. Expression of beauty together is more beautiful than expression of beauty alone. And respect of your teammate, your opponent, the fan, the ref.
And most importantly, never accepting mediocrity. It’s the ultimate value in my eyes. In the sense that you must demand it of yourself. You must not accept where you are, you must be generous and you must always give more.
So let’s say we have a team low on energy, what’s the team talk before the game?
I don’t accept this level of energy. This level of energy in the dressing room will result in disaster. We will not meet our objectives. It’s time to wake up. You, over there, I saw you in the warm-up, you’re not ready. Do you realise what you’re about to do? Are you ready?
You need a speech adapted to the circumstances. And when you’re at Arsenal you’re always the favourite so you need to remind them that they need to win, and they need to get in a zone which always them to express themselves.
This zone, you go into it little by little. The big, big trap for the elite sportsman is that he remembers a time when he was flying. When everything was easy. We dream of returning to that level as and when we wish but, you get there little by little.
By starting with the basics, playing simple and realising everything gets easier from there.
Arsene Wenger, if you were President of France, what law would you pass?
I would introduce football as an obligation, everywhere, absolutely all over France. Every single school.
And if you had to ask for someone’s forgiveness?
All the people who I’ve made suffer. In my line of work, we are constantly making decisions that punish people, while making others happy. When you work with a 25-man squad, it’s basically making 14 people unemployed every Saturday or Tuesday.
Also, the players for whom I never managed to find the key to helping them reach their potential.
And what if you had to change career with someone else?
Anyone who has the potential to have a positive effect on people’s lives. A politician or someone who discovers a revolutionary cure.
And what if you told us your darkest sin, the one you keep all to yourself?
My taste for patisseries. I’m from Strasbourg. I eat them every day.
And then the jogging?
And what if you weren’t in football?
I’d be somewhere in a competitive field. I love competing. There’s two types of competitiveness. Those who hate to lose, and those who love to win. We’re all in some way a mix of the two and I think I hate losing more.
In general, those who love to win more are attackers. Those who hate to lose more are defenders.
OK OK, and which match made you the happiest?
Probably beating Barcelona when they were at their highest highest peak. They were unbeatable. The football from both sides was exceptional.
Which player are you most proud of signing?
Erm… The ones I’m most proud of are the ones that cost little but turned out to be top class. Toure, Henry, Campbell, Anelka.
What about your worst recruit?
Oh there’s quite a lot! It’s a job which is complicated, measuring the worth of someone who joins your club. The key is to not be too stubborn and force the issue; realise the mistake and move on. Don’t be scared to make mistakes.”
What is the perfect player for you, tactically, physically, ability-wise?
There’s no perfect player. They all have flaws. For example, Messi is the most perfect of them all because he can make others play and he can score himself, but he has weaknesses, contrary to what some people think.
If you analyse his game, he’s not very good in the air, he’s not great defensively. But you don’t make a living out of your weaknesses, you make a living out of your strengths, therefore the coach must emphasise the strengths as much as possible and put players around this person who hide his weaknesses.
And what if you hadn’t been Arsenal coach, say in 2010, would you have become the French national team manager instead of Domenech?
Yes, I’ve had the opportunity numerous times to be France manager. I’m not sure if it was before or after Domenech. Maybe both… I’ve always been more interested in the day-to-day aspect of management. I find it much more stimulating.
It is a question I’ve been asking myself, if I should become a national team manager. A national team manager takes charge of ten games per year. In a club, you take charge of 60. My drug is the next match, so…
Secrets from the dressing room. Any skeletons in the closet? What do you tell them before a game?
You need to have a talk which is adapted to the circumstances. It’s not always the same opponent. Your team doesn’t always have the same energy levels – you need to have a good understanding of the energy levels in the team.
About His Life
If there was one moment you could remove from your life?
All the defeats.
There haven’t been many…
More than you think, each is a scar for life. Each will forever be a great disappointment.
And what if you told us your biggest mistake?
Perhaps staying at the same club for 22 years. I’m someone who likes to move around a lot, but I also like a challenge. I’ve been a prisoner of my own challenge at times.
And what if you told us your greatest fear?
My biggest fear is to lose the ability to be physically independent. I enjoy my mobility, I like exercising. A real fear of mine.
Arsene Wenger, you love Bob Marley – not many people know that…
I love Bob Marley. He’s pure class, in a chill kind of way. And his music was surprising for back then. Also, there’s something so sad about the fact he died at 35. He loved sport, music… for me Jamaica reminds me of that. Sport and music go together very well I find.
How did it all begin?
It all started in a little restaurant. The local football team used the restaurant as headquarters in a small town outside Strasbourg. I heard only football, and religion. In the morning, religion from everyone and then football was the distraction.
I took part in all the conversations that the team’s organisers would take part in. From a very young age. Five or six. Well, I understood quickly that the team wasn’t great, but I started going to the games with my emissary.
I believed only God could help them at the time and I would read and recite prayers during the game, at half-time while watching them play; I can tell you it’s better to have a good centre-forward than a hymn sheet.
Was it the team that your dad coached?
He created a team because he saw I was fascinated with the game, I was about 13 when I started playing. The team didn’t have a coach. It’s remarkable that until the age of 19 I didn’t have a coach.
What’s remarkable is that I’ve had such a long career in football despite this. It’s incredibly fortunate.
You played at Strasbourg and then were a coach at 33. Did the desire to coach come from this lack of coaching?
Well firstly I wasn’t convinced that I had the qualities to be a coach given I hadn’t had an illustrious playing career. And I wasn’t convinced I had the natural authority either.
I found myself propelled into this job by the people around me and what they saw in me. Something I didn’t see. I started out with players older than me.
One weird paradox is that I’ve never struggled for authority, even with the older player, without screaming.
And what if you told us what you regret sacrificing to have this career?
I regret having sacrificed everything I did because I realise I’ve hurt a lot of people around me. I’ve neglected a lot of people. I’ve neglected my family, I’ve neglected many close ones. Deep down though, the obsessed man is selfish in his pursuit of what he loves. He ignores a lot of other things. But it’s a bone to chase at the same time.
Often, I’m asked if Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira will be good managers and I always answer yes. They have all the qualities; they’re intelligent, they know football, they have excellent skillset, but do they want to sacrifice what needs to be sacrificed. It’s an obsession which bounces around your head day and night.
You wake up at 3am thinking about team selection, tactics, formation…
After 22 years at Arsenal, what’s next for Arsene Wenger?
I’m asking myself the same question! Do I keep doing what I’ve been doing, what I know. Or do I share all the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the years in a slightly different way? That’s the question I need to answer in the next few months.
You can read the original Arsene Wenger RTL interview transcript here…
Or read the English version of Arsene Wenger’s chat here.
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