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Wenger: My Life and Lessons in Red and White

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Many times I was approached to coach the English national team. I turned it down for two reasons. Because I felt that, first of all, it’s better an English guy does it. And secondly, because I was happy where I was. I was at a club where I loved to do what I did. Consecutive managers at Arsenal have struggled to fit Mesut Özil in their teams, for one reason or another. He’s now been left out of the club’s European squad, and many expect him not to make the cut for the Premier League, either. Arsène Wenger was the man who signed the German midfielder from Real Madrid in 2013, and in the book he explains how he got the best from him.

Arsène Wenger is undoubtedly a great manager. He took Arsenal from being a mid table team to champions and changed the entire dynamic of the club in terms of dietary needs and preparation, to the point it's now the norm throughout the English game. So even though I'm not an Arsenal fan I thought I'd enjoy his autobiography as he shared insights on his life and career. I found myself invited to David Dein’s house that evening. He had said to me: ‘We’ll talk about football.’ I mainly recall a very sociable evening with a lot of laughter and games, a kind of charades. I seem to recall one of the subjects they asked me to enact was A Midsummer Night’s Dream – no easy task – and I got through it pretty well!” He says. “The friendship, complicity and understanding between David and me date from that first dinner, and from all the times we’ve seen each other since.”Passages relating to the 2003/04 season where Arsenal’s Invincibles won the League unbeaten provide great insights, particularly of the mental toll exerted on him. The anguish of losing the 2006 Champions League - to Barcelona - is recalled in one of the book’s best passages. Arsene Wenger on a recent Late Late Show interview I do hope that history is sympathetic to Wenger. Many of his contemporaries, were not. He was very successful. He did bring great times to the club. He does make contentious claims in his book that the rivalry with the other lot, who play in white and blue does not hold the same 'tensions'. He also claims that it is 'harder to win the Premier League than the Champion's League'. On both points I am not sure. Unfortunately, his own fans that we gooners once were, would, I am sure, argue vociferously that the rivalry will be as fierce and tension filled as always and that if the second point was correct, why did we not win the Champion's League? As well as this we get his views on what a coach should be. But again there's no personality injected into his words. It comes across so mechanical and impersonal that it was boring to read and made him come across as emotionless robot. Case in point, his wife. She's barely mentioned and at one point he describes their relationship as "friendly". Can't you just feel his love radiating as you read that?

Gutted - I really wanted this book to be good but to be honest you don’t get anything you couldn’t have learned reading a few post match interviews, and really they would contain more detail.It’s one example but there were so many. The history of a big club is full of missed great players! In 1996, Wenger, tall, whip-thin, like a sixth-former in a suit, entered the British consciousness when he was announced by Arsenal as the fourth foreign manager in the history of top-division English football (the previous three had not fared well). He held the position for 22 years until 2018, during which time Arsenal won three Premier League titles and seven FA Cups. While his great rival at Manchester United, Alex Ferguson, motivated players with the famed “hairdryer treatment”, Wenger became known for “invisible” training: a holistic approach that went beyond fitness and ball skills and overhauled the lifestyle and nutrition of the squad. Players were given instruction on how to chew their food; the traditional half-time boost of a chocolate bar and fizzy drink was swapped for a sugar lump with caffeine drops on it. One small oddity is Wenger’s (at least) twice repeated claim that he inherited a mid-table club from Rioch – Arsenal had finished fifth the previous season. I was at the training ground to interview Wenger the afternoon before the last game of the Invincibles season, and while I was waiting for him in his office, a Frenchman I didn’t recognise came in and slammed his hand down hard on the manager’s desk. “Stupid English regulations,” he said. I expressed sympathy. “We are trying to sign a player, an incredible player. Yaya Touré. He has much more power than his brother. But they won’t let us.” It was a story that provided me with great currency among fellow fans, especially a few years later, when Touré was tearing up the midfields and defences of every other Premier League team. It is the absence of revealing stories here that will most disappoint Wenger’s many admirers. When asked at a press conference, shortly before he left Arsenal, whether he was writing a book, he replied: “Not at the moment. Because I don’t like to talk and not tell the truth. As long as you are in work, you cannot really tell what is going on.” One should point out that he is still in work, at Fifa, perhaps the most political of all sporting bodies. What we have instead is a lot of quiet, thoughtful musings on the qualities necessary for management, coaching and playing, with lots of abstract nouns: “The action [today’s manager] needs to take should be based on a three-pronged approach: giving people responsibilities, personalising and openness, through clear and constant communication, based on today’s science.” Roy Keane probably wouldn’t have written that sentence.

The one that got away: Cristiano Ronaldo playing for Manchester United in 2003, the year he signed for the club. Photograph: Petros Giannakouris/AP Such lego sentences. And beyond that, what did you like about Viera? How did he make you feel? How did he feel? Tell us! Or better yet share anecdotes to show us. How did he fit into your philosohy? What surprised you about him? What did you learn from him? Coaxing that level of introspection and detail would've made for a better read. Being hard on him doesn’t work. Like all artists, he needs to feel supported in his creativity. He has a feel for passing and an exceptional sense of timing when he passes,” he says. “There is something magical and simple about his playing style. The Premier League is a train that goes by at 200 kilometres per hour, and Özil doesn’t always go at this speed, but you always have great affection for his artistry.” His first match was a victory… or was it? Wow, what a disappointment this book was. As a lifelong fan of the Arsenal and ‘Le Professeur’ Arsene Wenger I was hoping this would be a detailed look into the man, the teams, the players and the matches that defined them. Instead you get a whistlestop tour of his career with the author providing what is essentially a top line summary of some of the events, not even always chronologically.

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His theories on player recruitment, scouting and management are for the most part thought-provoking and demonstrate why he is so in demand as a speaker amongst the denizens of the international business world.

As too was the notion of philosophy. That Wenger was a visionary, revolutionary of the game is unquestionable. His first years in particular at Arsenal and in English football changed the course of both, and the book explores some of his key thoughts and ideas that underpinned his management, including his expectations of players, the psychology of the game and player management. What is socialist for you? For me, a socialist is trusting connectivity to sort the problems of a society. First, you need a collective environment that favours the expression of the individual. After that, I think it’s down to an individual’s initiative to make the most of their life. But the dominant thing is a collective environment for me.I did however learn a lot about Arsene Wenger the man. I knew that he was very committed to his role as a manager, but hadn't realised quite how much football had taken over his life. Although in many ways a solitary man, it was clear from the book that he had many friends and colleagues that he thought highly of. Although of course with this being an autobiography it is a subjective book, he came across as a very fair man who cares passionately for the wellbeing of his players and is prepared to put in a lot of effort personally to nurture up and coming players. There are a million questions that Arsenal fans would want Wenger to answer. The answers, unfortunately, are either missing altogether from My Life in Red and White, or expressed in a way that is long familiar to us: the English players stopped drinking and eating Mars bars; he used to have his ups and downs with Ferguson but they get on fine now. Meanwhile Mourinho, who cast a long shadow over some of Wenger’s most difficult years, appears once in the book, in a table provided at the end showing his head-to-head record against rival managers. (Wenger beat Steve McClaren 83.3% of the time; he beat Mourinho 10% of the time.) I did enjoy it, and there were times (especially at the beginning and end of the book) where he went into more detail, which was a good read, but I wish he had done it more. I’m no wiser as to any specifics of what went on behind the scenes at arsenal in his 22 years there, for instance, nor was there any other real storytelling, insight into the specifics of management, or his side of the story on some of the most famous incidents he was involved in. I can’t help but feel he could’ve let the reader into much more. Including Real Madrid, twice. “It’s terrible to have to turn down your childhood club,” he says. “But I had a mission at Arsenal, a contract to honour, and I’d given my word.” What to say? That this book left me underwhelmed is an understatement. I don't think anyone going to read this ever thought Wenger would lift the lid and dish out some nastiness or air vendettas against people, but what I expected was more emotion. More honesty. I was there for all the events he described. I know what happened. But I didn't need that. I wanted to know how he felt after the big decisions, the big games. Especially where he felt there were injustices.

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