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gunner tell all Arsene Wenger confesses: I really did see all those incidents

Former Arsenal boss shows mischievous humour and says assessment of his last few years with the Gunners was ‘harsh’

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Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Photo: Nick Potts/PA

Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Photo: Nick Potts/PA

Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Photo: Nick Potts/PA

Arsene Wenger has a confession to make. After all those years of saying: “I didn’t see it,” after controversial incidents involving his Arsenal team, well, the truth is he often did.

At the start maybe, yes, but after that when it became about the sense of humour I thought, ‘OK, maybe I will go with it’. It was a good way to get out of embarrassing situations sometimes!” Wenger says.

When he uttered it in front of the television cameras there was often a wry smile on his face. It would provoke a laugh from the interviewer. “And then you would get away with it,” Wenger adds, chuckling himself.

After his 22 years at Arsenal, he says he “married well”, and that the common thread he shared with the club, was “a passion for the game” and that the “passion is linked to intensity and emotion”.

That passion is evident in Wenger’s autobiography, ‘My Life in Red and White’, winner of The Telegraph Sports Book of the Year Award and also the Sports Bestseller of the Year Award.

In a wide-ranging interview he discusses how daunted he was by his new role at FIFA, how he is pleased there is less “kicking” in the Premier League and how the assessment of his final few years at Arsenal was “harsh”.

There is also a warning about the huge amounts of money paid to young players – and even a hint that, maybe, he might just be lured back into management one last time – confirming, he was offered the England manager’s job as recently as 2016 after the debacle at the Euros.

But first the process of writing the book.

“It was what life is about. Highs and lows. Rejection and love. Winning and losing. But, overall, it was intense,” Wenger says, and it feels that is the only way that the 71-year-old can live his life.

When the book came out last year Wenger said it was part of the process of accepting his time as a manager was over, and while he starts by reiterating that, there is a shift.

“Overall we have to accept that our days come to an end at some stage,” Wenger says before adding: “I don’t rule it out. There are always people who say, ‘You are too old’ so at the time maybe I thought they were right, but I am in good shape and I have not completely decided not to do it anymore.”

There was, as well, a long debate as to whether he had stayed too long at Arsenal before stepping down in May 2018.

“I think people are quite harsh about the last years,” Wenger says. “In 2016 we finished second in the league. Leicester won, but other teams were behind Leicester as well and Leicester only lost three games.

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“In 2017, we did not qualify for the top four for the first time in 20 years, but we got 75 points.

“People don’t realise. We won the FA Cup against Chelsea, who had just won the championship. And after, in 2018, we lost the League Cup final against (Manchester) City, we lost in the semi-final of the Europa League against Atletico Madrid, by just one goal.”

Wenger admits in his autobiography it was a “very lonely, very painful” separation in that final season, and he adds now that he felt “a bit lost” on the morning after leaving the club before his “strong mind” took over and “I could accept it”.

“Arsenal will be in my heart forever but, yes, I focus on my next life now,” Wenger says. “Look, I gave the best years of my career to develop what I think is important – the stadium, to pay it back and put the club in a position where it was capable of facing the future and had the potential to do well. At the end of the day, above all, we won and what I am most proud about is putting the club in that position.”

All along he kept his principles on how a club should be run and, also, how football should be played.

“I was strong because I had in my mind that I was working for something that was bigger than me and I wanted to do that well,” Wenger says. “That is part of my character. I was, as well, the longest-serving manager in Monaco (seven years) but nobody speaks about that. I need to work somewhere where I can be part of something that is bigger than me and contribute to it.”

Famously, Wenger never broke a contract. “Never,” he reiterates and that led him to turn down a host of leading clubs around Europe and, on several occasions, the France and England teams.

When asked if 2016, after Roy Hodgson left, was the last time the Football Association came calling, he says: “Yes, I think so,” before offering a ringing endorsement of Gareth Southgate. “I like him. Anyway, all the managers who last long – Guardiola, Klopp, Ferguson – they care as much about the human being as the player.”

Wenger is pleased that there is now more technical, attacking football in the Premier League. “I see more positivity. Before, there was more kicking and I must say the media allowed that. The VAR has brought more respect for the offensive game,” Wenger added.

“Sometimes the more technical guys were kicked. Why? It was not very encouraging. We have moved forward from that,” he adds.

One trend he does not like, however, is how much money young players earn early in their careers.

“Before it was around 30 (years of age), after that around 25, after that 22,” Wenger says. “Now the speculation and the huge amounts of money are about players who might one day be players.

“That is where football goes on dangerous ground. Should we reward the people who produce quality? Yes, but when it is about players who might do that, then it’s much, much more dangerous.”

After his long career at Arsenal it was probably only a job such as FIFA’s chief of football global development, with its vast remit, that could satisfy Wenger, and he chuckles again when asked what it was like sitting at his desk at their Swiss headquarters on his first day.

“I was sitting and thinking exactly that,” says Wenger. “What can I do to push the football world forward?”

So there are three main tasks: education, “influencing the quality of the competitions” and the laws of the game, and Wenger has made headlines in recent weeks with his controversial proposal to stage the World Cup every two years.

His motivation, he insists, is just that: for the “whole” world to benefit.

“It is only my proposal!” Wenger protests. “I don’t make that decision. It’s for the whole football world to decide.”

“Look, I grew up in a village (in Alsace, eastern France) where I had no coach until the age of 19. I have managed many people who came out of Africa and had very few opportunities. Personally, I would say that every talent deserves a chance in life and today that is not the case.

“If you were born with the same talent but in Yaounde, London or Hanoi you have not the same chance to become a great football player.

“You can say that about life in general, but if you are responsible to give everybody the same chance, then you have to worry about it. You don’t have to accept it.”

Wenger is aware that some of his ideas may sound naive, and certainly idealistic, and that it is a leap to talk about education and opportunity to a biennial World Cup, but he is unabashed and, also, insists he carried out his due diligence before joining FIFA. He was well aware of its tarnished reputation.

“Yes, but it is completely different. First of all, all the finances are transparent now. It has completely changed. The votes for the big competitions are transparent and rated by an independent company. The suspicion that existed was, of course, explained by all the stories, but when you work inside you have a completely different image.”

Wenger once said “football has a responsibility in the world today”. Does he still feel that?

“I believe it more than ever,” he insists. “In my life football has become more important every day and I would say, today, football has a worldwide responsibility. It can do a lot for the world and it’s time we faced that.

“And I still have the same passion for the game. My life is always dictated by football. I would say that every day of my life is organised around football.

“I get up in the morning and look to see what game is on and then I organise my daily life to watch a game I want to watch and I never get bored. There is always something interesting that happens at some stage, you just have to be patient enough. I have still the same enthusiasm for it and I will keep that.”

But why?

“Sorry?” Wenger says, sounding confused. “I just want to say and I said it in my book: I know the intensity of my desire and my passion and I cannot really explain why. It certainly must be linked to my childhood. It must come from there. I grew up in a little pub (his parents owned a bar) where the headquarters of the local football club was and that is where it came from.

“Now the internet is the world. It’s a virtual world but that is where children look. When I grew up, my world was my village and the players who played were my heroes. They were poor, but for me they were heroes and you never lose that feeling.”

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