In an exclusive extract from the Arsenal Opus, an 850-page history of one of England’s proudest clubs, Arsène Wenger talks about his ongoing battle against a lifelong fiery temper
Arsène Wenger exudes intelligence and a sense of calm. Dignified and unruffled, he is used to living with pressure, but he admits it has taken years of self-discipline to keep his fiery temper in check. Even now he says he fears the dark side of his nature and the consequences of losing his cool.
“Is it anger, is it aggression, or is it a desire to be successful? Would I compromise my princi-ples? On occasions, yes, as first and foremost, I am a winner. But long-term, that’s not my attitude,” he explains. “Where does the anger come from? My father and my mother were both quite excitable, but the postwar world in which they lived was quite a rough world. The football world is also quite rough. You have to assert your personality and you need a high level of motivation. I control it now by thinking about the consequences of what I do. I didn’t always have the ‘off’ switch. I have seen very talented players and managers lose themselves to anger. A lot of things disturb me, but it is not a fear to lose. It is for you to master this fear. I was always concerned about dominating my animal feeling – not really dominating, I mean, knowing myself better.
“You can sometimes be surprised by your bad side. I have a dark side. You want to win so much that sometimes you forget that it is as well that you respect the rules. When you don’t win, you have to acknowledge the respect of your opponents as well. Sometimes I can’t do that. It is a dark side because the perfect side would be to say, ‘Well done. You played better’. You never know, in 50 years I might achieve it.”
There have been times when his impassioned response to on-field events led to criticism and, occasionally, disciplinary procedures. In October 2000 he was fined £100,000 and given a 12-match touchline ban, subsequently greatly reduced on appeal, for a disagreement with officials. “I feel like I have killed somebody,” he said at the time of the harshness of the punishment. In the final throes of Highbury’s last season, when Spurs were the visitors, Wenger argued vehemently with his Tottenham counterpart, Martin Jol. In Monaco he flew into rare but serious rages. At Cannes he once had to stop the team bus to be physically sick after a 3-0 defeat. His sojourn in Japan tempered his anger, but he could still finish matches at Highbury with his tie tugged to half-mast in frustration...