Seite 4: "I am ashamed how much time I spent watching football"

But you even stepped back: Martin Keown said that in the decisive game vs Liver­pool in 2004 that Arsenal turned around, he was the man for the speech at half-time.
He didn’t take over my job, but I let the players talk at some points. Some things on the pitch are only visible for the players them­selves and it is their right to address it. It is important that the players own your phi­lo­sophy, so you can let them carry on by them­selves. It hap­pened that I ent­ered the dres­sing-room at half-time and just asked the players: What do you think?

So you demanded that the players look after them­selves?
I demanded them to com­mu­ni­cate with each other. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion is a vital part of a team and its impro­ve­ment. A team who com­mu­ni­cates is dynamic. When you lose, players are going into their shell. You have to get them out and ani­mate them to speak on and off the pitch.

Is it true that one way for you to cope with pres­sure was lis­tening to Reggae music?
Some­times yes. I liked Bob Marley. His music was not fab­ri­cated, but hand-made, inspi­ring and rela­xing at the same time. It smells love for life and cools you down. This guy died at the age when foot­ball players retire, at 35. There are simi­la­ri­ties. He came from a poor side of the city like many of my players, he made it thanks to his strength. One of my favou­rite song was Could you be loved?”. I felt it related to the sto­ries in his songs. I also like Léo Ferré, but I guess you won’t know him. It is the French poets I love to listen to.

Did you have other means for rela­xing?
Watching foot­ball. I am ashamed to think how much time of my life I spent watching foot­ball matches. There was no bigger plea­sure than win­ning early on a Saturday morning and to then have the rest of the wee­kend as free time to watch foot­ball. That was the per­fect wee­kend for me.

For me, the mea­ning of life is foot­ball“

Don’t you have reg­rets squan­de­ring time when watching for example a 0 – 0 draw bet­ween Burnley and West Brom?
Yes, but it is like any other cul­tural thing. When you watch ten movies, some are not so exci­ting, or when you go to the theatre ten times, you don’t always feel enter­tained. But I always learnt some­thing from every game I wat­ched.

Would you say you neglected your family?
Yes, I should have spent more time with the family. A guy with a strong pas­sion makes people around him suffer. I feel guilty for that. On the other hand, my pas­sion allowed my family to enjoy a good life. That doesn’t com­pen­sate for lack of pre­sence. But life has no spe­cial mea­ning unless you have found it indi­vi­du­ally for yourself. And for me, the mea­ning of life is foot­ball.

That makes it even stranger to ima­gine you not being involved in the game any­more.
It’s strange for me as well. My plan is to develop a modern infra­st­ruc­ture around the world with FIFA so that every talent can blossom, no matter where he or she was born. We have to bridge the gap and make sure that not all the talents are being attracted to Europe. That is a chal­lenge but of course, on wee­kends, it is hard for me not stan­ding on the touch­line. Foot­ball is a drug for me, but there is a time for ever­ything in life. I leave it open if I will ever coach again.

How close did you come to mana­ging Bayern last year?
Not very close. I had a phone call with Karl-Heinz Rum­me­nigge because people said that I offered my ser­vice for the job at Bayern. It wasn’t true. So it was important to cla­rify that. Bayern didn’t call me for the job either. They made the right decision for Flick. Congra­tu­la­tions to him.

The clo­sest you came to mana­ging a club after Arsenal was Lyon in 2019, is that cor­rect?
Yes. I had offers after­wards but I didn’t take them.

Wenger Getty Images Editorial All 2 461393877 High Res WEB

Why haven’t you been to the Emi­rates since you left Arsenal?
I thought that since I moved away it’s good to be com­ple­tely away. I don’t want to excert a shadow on anyone. The best way was to cut the strings com­ple­tely.

Has it some­thing to do with the cri­ti­cism of some fans at the end of your stay at Arsenal?
Not really. That was a mino­rity. The day I left the fans were abso­lutely gra­teful. I built the trai­ning centre, I built the sta­dium and I paid it back. But some guys lacked respect for me in the end, it’s because of the emo­tions and they are part of it. I for­give them all but it wasn’t enjoyable at the time: When you look at the clubs I turned down (Real, Juventus, for example – editor’s note) and kept on mana­ging Arsenal with little resources, I sensed a bit of injus­tice towards me.

Even ung­ra­te­ful­ness?
In France, we say: Gra­te­ful­ness is the disease of a dog that is not trans­mit­t­able to men. (smiles) In the long run, people respect what I did: I served the club with inte­grity and con­sis­tency. I am very proud of that. The human side of a club in general has been lost. When I started at Arsenal, there were 70 per­sons at the club, now there are around 700. That has an effect on the way you manage a club. But I had the pri­vi­lige to work with excep­tional people in every regard.

When loo­king back at your 22 years at Arsenal, isn’t it curious that it all started by chance with a ciga­rette?
It defi­ni­tely is. Life is about atti­tude, curio­sity and coin­ci­dence. It depends on little things. I would have never managed Arsenal if I hadn’t learnt Eng­lish or if I hadn’t smoked. In 1989, I was watching a game of Gala­ta­saray as part of my job as a manager of Monaco. On the flight back, I stopped in London by chance and used the time to watch an Arsenal game. During half-time, I looked for a lighter for my ciga­rette. A friend of Bar­bara Dein offered one to me, and we started to chat. Bar­bara Dein was the wife of the Arsenal chairman David Dein and later on, she intro­duced me to him. They invited me to their apart­ment and we played cha­rades in Eng­lish.

I liked Bay­ern’s style of play“

Why?
It was a social evening with many friends at his house and so I just par­ti­ci­pated in the cha­rades. They asked me to play and I said: I will try. I don’t remember my role but David thought: This guy is not stupid. We kept in touch and met several times in the south of France. In 1996, he finally gave me the chance to manage Arsenal.

To sum it up: How can a manager make a team invin­cible?
You have to have good players. (pauses) You have to move for­ward, even when you are already good. A manager has to imple­ment the desire to move for­ward and give his team a clear pic­ture of what they could achieve tog­e­ther. Today, it is more com­plex to install that unity. Because the rela­tions inside a club are too com­pli­cated with too many people being involved. But sim­pli­city and cla­rity in the orga­niz­a­tion are keys for suc­cess. The clubs nowa­days are over­loaded with too many people and you can’t really mea­sure the effi­ci­ency of them all.

Will a team repeat an unbea­t­able season?
Liver­pool was not far away. This year they have already lost. They try to improve their tech­nical abi­lity in mid­field with Thiago; Hen­derson and Milner were important but they are get­ting older. But at the moment, there is no hugely domi­nant team in Europe. I liked Bayern’s style of play and Bar­ce­lona in their prime but there is no team you would die to watch. But con­cer­ning your ques­tion: Yes, I think, one day, our record could be repeated. But it will take some time.