Photos — Maurice Haas Date — 1 January, 2010
“Arsène Who?” – that was the question posed by the British media as one in autumn 1996 when Arsène Wenger arrived to look after the fortunes of Arsenal FC. His own players soon found a nickname dripping with sarcasm for him: “The Professor”. Foreign managers were a rarity in English football then. According to general consensus, only a Brit would be able to succeed in this country. Someone who could respond to the players’ banter in kind. Someone nobody could drink under the table after training. Arsène Wenger, to the consternation of many of his stars, put a swift end to the beer and junk food culture at the club. He began to freshen up the squad with the introduction of exciting young talents from the francophone parts of Africa. In his second season at Arsenal he achieved the coveted double, winning the Premier League as well as the FA Cup. Today, there is hardly a top club in England that hasn’t followed his example. Fish & chips & beer have been replaced by pasta, salad and fruit juice. The players are fitter and sharper all round, and, as a result, the quality of the game has improved considerably. Today, Arsène Wenger has won the Premier League three times, lifted the FA Cup four times, and reached the final of the Champions League twice. Remarkably, his team went unbeaten during the whole of the 2003/4 Premier League season.
“There is no better education in psychology than growing up in a pub,” says Arsène Wenger. He speaks from experience. His parents ran a restaurant in Duttlenheim near Strasbourg. “As a child in a pub, the adults pay no attention to you. You are free to observe how adults treat each other, how ruthless and mean they can be.” Studying economics at the university of Strasbourg, Wenger was also a passionate though mediocre footballer, eventually notching up a handful of appearances as a professional for RC Strasbourg. Mediocre players often make for first-rate managers: they have to think more deeply about their art than the born wizards whose tricks come to them in their sleep. This theory could have been invented for Wenger. In only his second job at Monaco he won his first league title as well as the UEFA Cup before arriving, via a short detour to Japan, in London.
The nickname “The Professor” has long since become a term of respect. The fans have recognized that the reserved demeanour is a protective shield to give Arsène Wenger the space to live football with all his passion. “The most important thing in your life is to have a target and to go for it,” he said in an interview with The Times. “All the rest is even more stressful. It is worse to have no target.” In contrast to many other managers, Wenger has resisted the temptation to correct weak spots in his team simply by bringing in expensive new players. Instead, he banks on the loyalty of players he has raised from junior age. “The people you meet at college from 16 to 20, often those are the relationships in life that keep going,” he avers. “Players who play together at 17 will go out with a supplement of soul, of love for the club, because they have been educated together.” Other managers measure time in seasons, Wenger measures it in seconds and years. Seconds, when he stands on the side of the pitch, willing on his players with every fibre of his body. Years, when he ponders his plans for the team. “I believe the target of anything in life should be to do it so well that it becomes an art,” he says. “And that includes football.”
Nobody has wielded a greater influence on modern English football than Arsenal Manager Arsène Wenger