Book Review: My Life in Red and White by Arsène Wenger
There is a quote that I feel perfectly sums up the book, and comes very close to capturing Wenger’s life as well as dream in a line, “Football can only call itself a profession if its aim is to make people dream.” From a young Alsatian boy who played in the middle of nowhere, he’s risen to become one of the greatest managers the world has ever seen and who holds the record for most Premier league matches managed after a 22 year old stint with Arsenal FC between 1996 and 2018.
My Life in Red and White captures Arsène Wenger down to the T. Or shall we say, down to the D. It is a book that speaks of nothing but the love and respect that ‘The Teacher’ has and will always have for this beautiful game, with his passion and loyalty for his club coming a close second. It chronicles his historic rise and his entire journey – from France to Japan to the United Kingdom – with many more, memorable stops along the way. He talks about the positions he was in, where he had to take difficult decisions (just one of them being letting go of the men he helped build – Viera, Henry, Fabregas among others) for the future of the club despite them being against public opinion.
It tells us the story of a man who, above everything else, lives and breathes football. Today, as the book suggests, football has, in many ways, reduced to only one thing: money. Winning is both a side-effect of and a cause (sometimes very explicitly) for the inflow of money. And that is one thing that Wenger bemoans the influence of. He wants football and the beauty of the sport to be at the center of every game. Being one of the first managers to take the help of statistical analysis, he understands the importance of getting with the times and being well-adapted to the ever-changing demands of today’s world. But more than anything, Wenger wants the respect for the club and the respect for the game to be at the fore-front of every decision that is being taken at the club.
Winning is important, yes. Wenger himself explicitly states that even the most beautiful view would be ugly for him if he had lost a match that day. But what he truly believes in is that fair play and emphasis on collectivism over individualism as well as embodying the spirit of the club guarantees one the satisfaction of winning with class. Perhaps the most important reason for Wenger staying at Arsenal for so long is the fact that he found a home in a place that truly respected and emphasized on the values he believed in.
He mentions Sir Alex Fergusson and the infamous Pizzagate incident. He discusses his players, and discusses them the way a proud mother would speak of a child. He talks about the importance of letting players settle in and adjust, of understanding the player and not judging him for what he does off the pitch and how important it is to look after young players. He addresses all the points in his career that people have had doubts about, have questioned, have resented him for. But he’s firm in his values and he has courage in his convictions about every decision that he’s ever taken. He talks about how his loyalty to the club had him turn down offers from more exciting clubs at the time, and how he wouldn’t leave Nagoya for Arsenal without finding a replacement. Loyalty is a big part of the Wenger way and something that is slowly disappearing in football as well as fans today.
In his epilogue he talks about his future as Chief of Global Development at FIFA and what he hopes to achieve in that role. He lays down his dreams one by one and the importance of those – in the long term. He wishes for many more to see this sport for what it really is – a beauty and a dream – instead of all of the other frivolous things that often follow football around today.
Truly, a masterpiece that’s come from a legend. And a must read for all football fans, yes, even Man U supporters.
(I am an FC Barcelona supporter, just FYI.)