Wenger’s autobiography: No Mourinho mention in ‘My Life in Red and White’

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Arsene Wenger released his autobiography, “My Life in Red and White,” on Tuesday, almost two-and-a-half years after leaving Arsenal in acrimonious circumstances.

The 70-year-old spent almost 22 seasons in north London, managing a total of 1,235 games for the club, winning three Premier League titles, seven FA Cups and masterminding an entire unbeaten league campaign in 2003-04 as his “Invincibles” team became champions.

Wenger previously took charge of clubs Nancy and Monaco in his native France and Japanese club Nagoya Grampus Eight after a modest playing career, and since November 2019 he has been FIFA’s chief of global football development.

He remains one of the most iconic figures in the game, leaving an indelible mark on Arsenal and English football, but his time at Highbury and the Emirates was not without its fair share of rows, controversies and setbacks.

Here are the key moments from his long-awaited autobiography, which is out now from Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

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Control was an early obsession

Wenger’s omnipotence at Arsenal grew into his greatest strength and later his biggest weakness. The origin of his desire to micromanage every aspect dates back to his first coaching job in the Strasbourg academy, where he says that despite his inexperience he was “given carte blanche” to develop his own techniques. This continued at Nancy, where he writes with pride about “reaching a deal with Derby who would supply me with 100 footballs per season at a reasonable price.” He revealed he almost canceled his contract with Nagoya at the outset when a director questioned his proposed signing of Franck Durix. “I gave the director 10 minutes to think it over… or I would rescind my contract as coach,” Wenger writes. The level of control he was given at Arsenal allowed him to shape the club in his own image, redefining their reputation for functional football and delivering stunning success.

The failures stay with him more than the successes

Wenger admits he has never been able to re-watch the 2006 Champions League final in which Arsenal lost 2-1 to Barcelona. He speaks of replaying moments in defeat over and over, perennially searching to capture — and then recapture — the “collective state of grace” that enabled Arsenal to go an entire league season undefeated. In one sense, the book charts Wenger’s journey to that utopia and his forlorn attempts to return. As the difficulties set in, he clung to the wholesome and altruistic values that made him turn down multiple job offers — he says he turned down Real Madrid twice — and steer the club through years of financial hardship created by their move from Highbury to Emirates Stadium. He reiterated how the banks demanded a technical guarantee he would stay at the club for five years in return for sanctioning the necessary loans.

The rivalries are consigned to history

Wenger spent many news conferences in his latter years deflecting difficult stories by insisting “one day, I will write a book,” but there is no mudslinging whatsoever here. In fact, Jose Mourinho’s name is not mentioned at all while his once-bitter feud with Sir Alex Ferguson is viewed through the softer prism of their latter-day friendship. He references Ferguson’s “crushing authority” on English football and subsequent “subconscious pressure on referees” but ‘Pizzagate’ — referring to Cesc Fabregas throwing a slice of pizza at Ferguson in the Old Trafford tunnel after Manchester United ended Arsenal’s unbeaten run in 2004 — is almost entirely glossed over. Indeed, he even argues that Arsenal’s rivalry with Tottenham Hotspur is not what it used to be, saying “the stakes are no longer the same.”

Wenger remains magnanimous over his departure — but didn’t want to leave

Wenger’s control was gradually stripped away in the final years of his time at Arsenal, as chief executive Ivan Gazidis shifted the club’s structure away from the manager’s autonomy by appointing a series of department heads assigned greater influence. Although Wenger notes the expansion in staff, Gazidis is mentioned only twice in the whole book. In keeping with his characteristic class, the closest Wenger comes to voicing his irritation at being forced out is to claim “it was as if I were being prevented from doing my work while I was doing it.” Wenger also acknowledges “if it had just been up to me, I would have stayed until my contract expired [a year later].”

Ashley Cole’s departure is one of his deepest regrets

Wenger accepts the high-profile departures of Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas and many others as they left to join clubs better equipped to challenge for silverware. But Cole’s decision to join Chelsea in 2006 “is one of the great regrets of my life,” according to Wenger, who adds that the left-back moved across London “thanks to a misunderstanding in the [contract] negotiations with his agent.”

Suarez bid was to “check a clause”

Arsenal were derided in 2013 for offering Liverpool £40,000,001 for Luis Suareznot least from Anfield chief John W Henry on Twitter. Wenger explains that the striker’s agent claimed that a £40m release clause existed but he later found out it didn’t. “To check this was true, we offered £40,000,001. This may have seemed ludicrous, I admit.” Liverpool kept Suarez and he joined Barcelona a year later.

Ozil doesn’t respond to tough love

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Stewart Robson jokes that Mesut Ozil would be better served playing Gunnersaurus than sitting on Arsenal’s bench.

Mesut Ozil is frozen out at Arsenal by current manager Mikel Arteta, a far cry from the fanfare that greeted Wenger’s capture of the German midfielder for a then-club-record £42.4 million from Real Madrid in 2013. Wenger’s advice was clear: “[Ozil] needs to be constantly encouraged and he needs to feel close to his coach and have a relationship of trust with him. Being hard on him doesn’t work.”

He might return to management

Wenger insists it remains too painful to return to Arsenal as a spectator, let alone in a more formal capacity, but he leaves open the possibility of taking up a management role elsewhere in future. He became FIFA’s chief of global football development in November 2019 and is relishing the chance to implement his ideas for the future of the game on such a grand scale, yet adds an important caveat: “Until such time, maybe, that I find myself back in the heaven and hell of a manager’s job.”

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