Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Sport: If Arsene Wenger Is So Anglophile, Why Are There No Brits in His Team?

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Sport: If Arsene Wenger Is So Anglophile, Why Are There No Brits in His Team?

Article excerpt

In 2003, Jasper Rees wrote a book about Arsene Wenger, later expensively serialised in the Guardian, only to discover that, in effect, there was nothing much to discover about the Alsatian-born manager of Arsenal: he was, and remains, largely unknowable. He never gives personal interviews--one-on-ones, as they are known in the business--and he certainly never spoke to the unlucky Rees. He remains, instead, a master of withholding, of the wry and cryptic communication.

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We are encouraged to think of Wenger, because he lived and worked in Japan, as a man of Zen-like restraint and dignity, and as unusually intelligent, at least for a man of football. He is certainly a gifted linguist and, through his knowledge of sports science and nutrition, and with his worldwide network of contacts, he has transformed Arsenal from a venerable and conservative institution into a truly globalised, progressive entity: a model of harmonious racial and multicultural integration.

Yet as the title slips inexorably away from Arsenal, we have come to know him a little better through the fortuitous words of others. This is Alex Ferguson, for instance, discussing the immediate aftermath of Arsenal's 2-0 defeat at Old Trafford last October: "In the tunnel he [Wenger] was publicly criticising my players, calling them cheats. I was told about this ... so I went out into the tunnel and said to him: 'You get in there and behave yourself, leave my players alone.' He came sprinting towards me with his hands raised saying: 'What do you want to do about it?'" Not much Zen-like calm in evidence on that occasion.

We also know that, according to his old friend and compatriot Gerard Houllier, Wenger has settled well into this country since moving here in 1996. "He looks quite English," Houllier said. "He is made for the English mentality and the English game. At times, I see him as the archetypal British gentleman."

I'm not sure about this remark--because Wenger has always seemed to me to be rather prejudiced against the English. More precisely, he does not seem to rate our players or want them in his team. …

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