Seite 3: "The first defeat was real robbery"

During your first season at Arsenal, the players at the team bus were chan­ting We want our Mars bars back” – how did you respond to that?
(laughs) I remember my first game. I asked the physio: What is wrong? Nobody is tal­king.” He ans­wered: Because they are all hungry. They didn’t get their Mars bars.” I changed their habits but they got used to it. Your body has a memory. The modern sport is about mar­ginal gains that can make the dif­fe­rence.

One sup­porter from the Arsenal Fan club in Ger­many asked: Arsene Wenger changed the nut­ri­tion to more healthy food – so how come there was Pizza around after they lost at Man United (in the first defeat after 49 games)?
At Old Traf­ford, the home team puts food in the dres­sing room of the visi­tors. Some of it was Pizza. So a slice of it was thrown at some offi­cials from United.

Your player Cesc Fab­regas was so furious he threw Pizza at United manager Sir Alex Fer­guson. What do you remember about this inci­dent?
Loo­king at it today, it was funny. But of course at the time it created huge pro­blems inside Eng­lish foot­ball. We were domi­nant in the game before United were awarded an unju­s­ti­fied penalty. We felt betrayed when we lost this game after being unde­feated for 49 games. It was real rob­bery.

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Reu­ters

How do you speak with Sir Alex Fer­guson about these duels today? It is said you exchange messages from time to time.
Today, we speak in a friendly and kind manner. Once you are not in a com­pe­ti­tion any­more, the rela­ti­ons­hips become natu­rally better. But when you are in fierce com­pe­ti­tion, it can get harsh. And it got harsh.

It became very tense when you accused United player van Nistel­rooy of chea­ting. He got a penalty for United but hit the crossbar – after­wards your players jumped around him and taunted him. Arsenal and you yourself received heavy cri­ti­cism for that beha­viour in public. What impact did that so-called Battle of Old Traf­ford” and the coverage have on the Invin­cible season?
It was the start of our Invin­cible run so to say. It united the team. Martin Keown was exposed in that situa­tion and van Nistel­rooy explo­ited that. At the time, Man United got pen­al­ties for fun at home. They just needed to demand and then they got one. It was an auto­matic dis­tri­bu­tion. It was one cheap penalty amongst many.

In the 2013 docu­men­tary Best of enemies” Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane looked back on the Arsenal-United rivalry and said: There was hatred on the pitch.
There was. Keane was always pro­fi­cient in hating other players. Patrick was a strong cha­racter but he wasn’t natu­rally aggres­sive, of course hard in the duels, but not unfair. He respected the rules. But if you look for a fight, you cer­tainly will get one from him. That’s why the fight bet­ween the two was so excep­tional. Patrick didn’t fear anyone or anything.

Foot­ball can be like art“

You men­tioned in an inter­view with The Times” that Pep Guar­diola at that time asked you to sign him but you refused because you had Vieira.
Guar­diola even came to my home to speak with me. After­wards he went to Bre­scia, but he was at the end of his career. He would’ve fit into Arsenal, but I owed some­thing to Vieira. When I arrived in Eng­land, I was an unknown quan­tity. Alt­hough I was manager of the year” in France, in Eng­land people asked Arsene who?”. The first player I brought in was Vieira. He gave me credi­bi­lity by con­vin­cing ever­yone with how excep­tio­nally he played. Patrick was one of my best trans­fers. Ten years later, ever­yone was loo­king for a new Vieira”, even when he himself was an offi­cial at Man City. But no one could find a new one.

Let’s talk about pres­sure during the unbeaten run. You once said: When I was manager, I didn’t see beauty or plea­sure or rela­xa­tion.” Did the job harm you phy­si­cally?
Look, I managed Arsenal for 1235 games and I missed zero. So phy­si­cally, I wasn’t damaged. And I still play foot­ball today at the age of 70. It’s not bad. If you can kick a ball every day and walk pro­perly at that age, you need to be lucky. What I mean: I loved glo­bally the life I led, but inside that life you have to sort out pro­blems. And the pure joy is just seconds of your career, the rest is hard work. I think you also expe­ri­ence that in your job as a reporter. Daily life is dif­fi­cult. To get out of the boring, repe­ti­tive side of life is very dif­fi­cult. That’s why I always pro­moted sty­lish foot­ball, because it is a way to get people out of a boring life. The aim is to trans­form the game into art. Make the people forget the usual boredom.

So is foot­ball a form of cul­tural task?
Yes, foot­ball can be like art.

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Getty Images

You spoke about there being only seconds of joy. When did you sense them?
When we won. But just when you enter the dres­sing room, there are already the pro­blems of a manager’s daily life wai­ting for you: Who is injured? Who has to be replaced? When is the next game? The anger after a defeat lasted longer than the joy of a vic­tory. Even when I look back at the Invin­ci­bles season, there is some regret because we were kno­cked out by Chelsea in the Cham­pions League. And we were capable of win­ning it as well that year. We drew at Stam­ford Bridge – I had played the full team some days before against Man United, so we lacked a bit of energy. This is still painful for me to think about.

You once said that your arte­ries were clog­ging when your team was con­ce­ding a goal. Was that the case throughout your entire career?
Some­times more, some­times less. You are always angry when con­ce­ding a goal. But that’s what it is like in this job, you have to be angry as a manager. Today the mana­gers are a bit more con­scious about their image, they are like actors on the touch­line. Some mana­gers walk onto the pitch after the final whistle. I always hated that rub­bish. Just go to the dres­sing room and leave the arena for the players!

You always seemed to be very con­trolled. Your spee­ches in the dres­sing rooms are said to be very logical and matter-of-fact. How did you main­tain that serious­ness when obviously being that tense?
You have to show your players that you are in con­trol. You can’t panic every week. If you only reach the players by emo­tions, the players will stop lis­tening to you at some point. You need to adjust to the psy­cho­lo­gical situa­tion of the team. I expe­ri­enced that it is better for our team to keep it logical before the games. Just because there were already enough emo­tions around with that team.