To soccer fans in the U.S., Arsene Wenger has been a ghost since his retirement as Arsenal’s manager. While he’s done work for beIN SPORTS and FIFA, his presence in American soccer media has been non-existent. That is why his second book, his first autobiography and first in English, is so highly anticipated. For the man known as “The Professor,” we soccer fans will have a chance to again hear from him his thoughts on the beautiful game.
Wenger’s book is a straight-forward autobiography. Wenger begins with a brief prologue laying out what he has been doing in managerial retirement and why he is writing the book (reflecting on his career and the modern game). Then we go chronologically through his life. We begin with his birth and upbringing where he notes that his interest in human psychology began by observing patron brawling in his father’s bistro. His story continues to his early football career where he caught a few breaks and met the right people, before he made his mark in a major way with Monaco. A majority of his readers undoubtedly are Arsenal fans, so some of his reflections on his hiring by Arsenal as well as his managing of the Invincibles will be of interest.
Wenger: My Life and Lessons in Red and White comes in at less than 300 pages, so it can safely be described as straightforward. For a man known as The Professor, the book as expected contains flowery prose and thoughtful moments that stand in contrast to other managers autobiographies. For example, consider this line in the first chapter:
“I come from that world, from that village that was like an island, and the man I would become, the player, the manager, this man who thinks only of football, was molded, shaped by the spirit of those places and by the people who lived there.”
Not quite the prose you would expect from Harry Redknapp’s autobiography. As you would want from a Wenger book, there are moments of pure prose where the author pauses to consider a situation or conundrum he faced during his career. Oddly he reflects more on the END of the Invincibles’ run than the actual run itself, noting about the core of The Invincibles leaving:
“You regret losing one player more than another, you regret a particular decision, you regret a technical error that was not corrected properly, you regret something you should have said at halftime and did not. Even today, I still have this need to question myself in order to progress.”
This quote captures the two major problems with this autobiography that will bother some readers, but not all. The first is that these types of reflections are interspersed throughout but Wenger rarely spends more than a paragraph or two on them. Consider his thoughts on VAR, an incredibly relevant topic in modern soccer. He spends a few paragraphs musing on the topic then quickly moves on. The book pivots from topic to topic and, considering how few pages it ultimately is, there is a lot left on the editors table. The book needed more time and space for Wenger to truly muse on major topics, although his role with FIFA may have constrained what he could say on many topics.
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The second problem is one common to biographies – his inability to identify his weaknesses. Even the biggest Arsenal fan could point to areas where Wenger fell short or could have made a better decision – signing certain players who were a bad fit, his penchant for arguing with referees, or any one of various decisions made over a long career. But even now when there was little to lose by admitting fault, he doesn’t. Even mistakes he writes about he spins as long-term benefits. In this regard the book reminded me of Sir Alex Ferguson’s book on leadership, where he underplayed certain incidents.
So is this book worth reading? For newer fans who have not read John Cross’s book or did not follow Arsenal during Wenger’s full term, I think there is value. Certainly it is interesting to read why he thinks his style was influenced by his upbringing, or why he signed certain players or made certain decisions. But as someone who has read so many autobiographies, I was disappointed by this book. I expected more from Wenger, a true thinker of the game, and found myself just breezing through at the end. I am glad I read it but I my expectations were much more.
Wenger: My Life and Lessons in Red and White is available via Amazon and all fine booksellers
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