Former Arsenal player Emmanuel Petit has given an interview to France Football discussing Arsène Wenger ahead of the North London side’s crucial encounter with Monaco in the Champions League this evening.
“For me, he is a visionary and someone who is very pragmatic. He leaves nothing to chance, he calculates everything. He approaches the job in a very professorial manger, almost scientific and that is of course very paradoxical for someone who didn’t want to pass his football manager diplomas and who always considered football as a second option.”
“He never had the intention of doing this job. Before, he studied economics and management. He also had, and this is his great strength, the intelligence to know how to link pragmatism with the human side in order to reach excellence. Before he is interested in you as a footballer, he is interested in you as an individual.”
“He attaches an enormous amount of importance to human relationships. He installs a relationship built on trust, like a therapist does with his patient. With this, it enables you to talk about everything, our personal concerns, we always know that we have someone who will listen, who will try and help us find the solution. Personally, I had quite a few personal problems to deal with, and he always listened and helped. In return, he expects the same from his players, the same approach. A straightforward, honest, human approach. In the end it makes you want to do everything for him.”
“He is a workaholic, someone who lives for this job. He has a passion for football which is almost pathological. He almost forgets to live his own life. He never disconnects, even during the breaks (from football). This is shown by his appearances on TV (Arsène Wenger had been commentating for French TV station TF1 for French international games until recently).”
“He has been a manager for 35 years, I have known him for nearly 30, and he has never changed. He has another fault: he does not know how to recognise when he is wrong.”
A piece of advice?
“It was the day after my first professional match against Sochaux. I was marking Stéphane Paille, who was the striker for France at the time, and he pretty much found me out. The critics were very positive about my game. After getting changed, Arsène came over to congratulate me and tell me that I was on the right track but that I still had a lot to learn. And then he said to me: “If you want to become a better footballer, you need to learn how to discover yourself.” He then asked me if I went out at night, to clubs and suchlike… I enforced a very hygienic lifestyle on myself and he encouraged me to live the life of a young man, to go out and socialise, to have drinks whilst remaining within a certain framework of course. At that moment, we entered into a private sphere, and I found that very touching.”
“I have loads of good memories with Arsène. The best one has to be the day he threw in the deep end. He was the man who picked me, he gave me my chance and kickstarted my career. He was very paternal with me. It was thanks to him that I realised my dream of becoming a professional footballer.”
“I don’t know if he is very religious, but certainly spiritual. For example, when he is fuming, when he needs to think, he must walk barefoot in the grass. He needs to be in contact with the elements, like Matrix. He also imposes a strict diet on himself. He likes to eat well, but he pays attention to everything. That is why he has always been as thin as a stick. When we ate watery pasta without even being able to put cheese or butter on it, he ate like us. And you got that the impression that he loved it. We, we didn’t understand it.”
“He is everything but coldhearted. He is someone who is very easy to talk to, someone who loves to laugh. He is a very jokey guy. I pass by still often to see him in his office in the stadium after games, and you almost had the impression that you were entering his living room. He still has that little grin, eyes sparkling. And the little glass of wine that he will serve you. I still have a lot of fun meeting up with him. If I had any advice for him, I would say what he said to me when I was young “Get outside, enjoy life, your family, your friends.” He also needs to spend a bit more time in the sun, he is so white these days he is almost transparent!”