Seven of the best Arsene Wenger stories: Toure, Grenfell, Anelka & more
Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has signed up to write his first autobiography, and it’s not just Gunners fans who will be interested to read what he has to say.
Wenger has often chosen his words carefully, letting other people paint a picture of what he is like as a manager and a man.
Here’s a selection of stories which have helped shape our impression of Le Professeur..
The Kolo Toure trial
Wenger took both Toure brothers on trial at different points, and Kolo left more of a lasting impression than Yaya.
After going in two-footed on both Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp, the defender went in on Wenger himself – “a proper tackle – took him out,” in the words of Ray Parlour.
“Wenger’s had to limp off, he’s gone to the medical room… Wenger’s sitting there with a big ice pack on his ankle and I felt sorry for Kolo, I said, ‘Boss, I don’t think he meant to kick you like that.’ And he went, ‘I know he didn’t mean it, I like his desire, we’ll sign him tomorrow!”
Two lies are better than one
Wenger has had to deal with plenty of intra-squad beef in his years, and that has forced him to find new and creative ways to deal with it.
When Nicolas Anelka was worried about Marc Overmars not passing to him, Wenger took advantage of his advantage in the situation: his command of more than one language.
As explained in Michael Cox’s book, The Mixer: “He asked the two players to spell out their issues; Anelka repeated his complaint to Wenger in their native tongue, while in English, Overmars claimed he always looked out for Anelka’s runs and didn’t understand his problem.
“Rather than translating their comments accurately, Wenger simply told Overmars that Anelka had said he no longer had a problem, then told Anelka that Overmars was promising to pass more. Both were lies, but it temporarily resolved the situation.”
The sugar system
When Wenger’s departure was confirmed, journalist Henry Winter shared a number of memories he had been sitting on for years, but the clearest sign of the manager’s perfectionism comes from an interaction with Sol Campbell.
“I remember talking to Sol Campbell in Colney canteen [at Arsenal’s training ground] & he demonstrated how Wenger insisted if players were to drink tea or coffee (milk bad), and if you had to have sugar, there was a Wenger-approved technique of stirring it in to make all the granules absorb.”
That sort of attention to detail doesn’t even surprise us.
The art of the deal
Wenger, throughout his time at Arsenal, seemed reluctant to ever spend more money than he needed to. That wasn’t just restricted to transfers, though.
“One example that sums up Wenger’s approach to money – and the impact he had on Arsenal – came when the club were trying to buy the training facility off London University, having rented there for some time,” former Gunners defender Martin Keown recalled.
“Seeing a deal to be done, Wenger instead went to the farmer who owned the land next door and bought the lot for half the price!’
Supporting the Grenfell heroes
“Heroic is a word we will often hear in a football context but these brave men and women truly embody what it means to be a hero,” Wenger said, upon firefighters who worked to put out the Grenfell fire in 2017 were invited to the Emirates Stadium.
“I know the club’s community department also worked hard to help with the relief efforts at Grenfell, everyone here at Arsenal was shocked and deeply saddened by events in west London and we send our deepest sympathies to those many families affected.”
Two days before start of this season, Wenger dropped everything to attend an FWA event raising funds for survivors of Grenfell. Spoke passionately about society’s need to protect people better. Did great Q&A. A few WengerOuts in the room and he charmed them with his dignity. 8/10
— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) April 20, 2018
‘One of the greatest men I’ve met’
“He is without doubt one of the three greatest men I’ve met in my life,” legendary goalkeeper and former coach Bob Wilson said of Wenger, recalling a story from the late 90s, when the Frenchman was still relatively new to his Arsenal role.
“I am not just talking about his football knowledge and how he changed the game in this country but as a human being through difficult times for my wife and I lost our daughter.
“He was extraordinary. In that time when we went on a pre-season tour to Austria we would finish a training session and got on the coach and Arsene told me to sit next to him and we talked about Anna and then human spirit. This is emotional for me.”
Rising above the early doubts
When Wenger arrived in England, a lot was made of his perceived intellectualism, seemingly in opposition to the men who led the game at the time.
“They say he’s an intelligent man, right? Speaks five languages? I’ve got a 15-year-old boy from the Ivory Coast who speaks five languages,” Alex Ferguson said.
The easiest way to get past that is to win trophies, as Wenger did in his first full season. We wonder what happened to that young Ivorian…