On Thursday afternoon, Arsene Wenger faced the media at London Colney for the final time.
After 22-years as Arsenal manager there was much to reflect on.
Here’s a full transcript of the occasion…all 3,000+ words.
Arsene, it’s your final press conference…
Can you explain how you’re feeling right now?
You know, it’s a bit strange for me. I’m slowly understanding that it finishes. So I’m adapted now. I try to finish as well as I can and hopefully not disappoint you for my last press conference.
How strange has the last four days been for you since the emotional goodbye at the Emirates?
It was very strange. I’m grateful for that because at the end of the day you can say it’s sad. If you look at it in an objective way, I must say when you have the privilege to manage for 22 years at a club of that stature, you should be very, very happy and say thank you very much, it was a great privilege. That’s how I look at it.
How difficult is it for the players to get themselves up for the Leicester game and the Huddersfield game?
I must say the players attitude was great last night. They were fantastic. I believe there is a special bond in the team, something is waiting to come out of this team that is special, that I like very much. Hopefully they can express that next season. If you look at it in a very objective way, we scored 73 goals and will score more certainly. But we conceded too many goals. It’s quite simple to look at what needs to be improved.
Can you describe how the next few days will pan out, both pre-Huddersfield and afterwards?
As I always said, I’ll try to do my job until the last minute I work here. Then I’ll think about the future. At the moment, I don’t at all. I’m sitting in front of you and I don’t realise it’s my last press conference, I have just the game of Huddersfield in mind and try to do as well as I can until the last minute I am here.
Are you someone who gets emotional?
Yes. I am very passionate. At a very young age I realised that if I wanted to survive in this job I had to get control of my emotions or I would not survive. I don’t know if you can imagine but at 33-years of age I was responsible for a top team in France. I am 68-years-old today and I never stopped. There is a long learning process of controlling who you really are, controlling the animal that is inside you. That helps me a lot. I went through some fantastic periods in my life and as well some difficult periods. The fact I managed to keep control of my emotions and my reactions, helped me to do my job. Now, after I finish here, I can reconnect a little bit and be a bit more who I am really.
Have we not seen the real Arsene Wenger?
You have seen the real Arsenal Wenger. One aspect of me – a desperate guy who wants to win football games. That’s the thing that matters. That is what is a big part of my personality.
How difficult have you found it since you made the decision to leave?
It’s difficult because this is my life every year. There are 20,000 trees out there. I saw every one like that [make small gesture], now they are massive. I will greet every one of them before I leave and say thank you. This is my life and I don’t know anything else. That’s what it will of course be difficult. On the other hand, I can leave the club and be proud of what is behind me. It’s a fantastic structure, fantastic conditions for the next manager. I think I have been a little part in the development of a club that is historical and has a huge fanbase. I leave the club to the future in a strong position.
What question would you want to ask your successor?
The advice I would give to him is, give his best and respect the values of the club. This club is respected all over the world. I would just like him to bring his own ideas. It’ll be a different speech, a different way to see the game. That is as well a chance for the players to see something different. On the other hand, I’d also say, respect what has been built here and what people care about. You have seen on Sunday with the goodbye I had from the fans, [even though] some of the fans don’t agree always with my decisions, they respected that I was honest and loyal and committed to the values of the club and that I give my best for the club. That’s what they want to tell me, that they agree with me on that. I’d like my successor to do that as well.
Do you have a most cherished memory?
Maybe my first title as I came here unknown and I could win in my first full year the championship. Personally, from 2006-2015 was the period when I needed to be the strongest and did the best job. I accepted to commit to five years when we built the stadium and to work with restricted resources to keep the club in the position where we could pay our debts back. I personally feel I did my best job during that period. Not the most glamorous, but the most difficult.
If there was one match that you could change, which would that be?
It’s always the last one. Not Leicester! Because there was nothing at stake. But Atletico Madrid. When you come out of the first game with the result 1-1 when you should be 3-0 and nearly already qualified, it’s what you would like to change. During that game, even with my experience, at 1-0 in the second half I never expected it to finish 1-1. I thought maybe we cannot score the second goal, but we won’t concede…they never crossed the halfway line. Always the last pain is the biggest one.
More than the Champions League final?
The Champions League final is 2006 that’s 11 years ago [editor’s note, it’s 12 Arsene]. Always that will remain [as a pain] but my last pain is the last big defeat.
What would going out on a winning note mean?
I think the last result will not matter. I will more say to the players look, we have a way to prepare for the future, the best way to do that is to win and go into next season in a positive mind. We have gone through a season of ups and downs, but they have created something special and I’d like that to come out in the last game, by the way we play the game. In fairness, that’s what they did last night. The best way to prepare next season is to win the next game.
Is your legacy all the trophies you’ve won or the magnificent stadium at Ashburton Grove?
It’s a bit of all of that. I would say that as well, the legacy is the way you behave with your players. I get many messages from players, not always about the trophies we won together but more about the human aspect that the players keep and the values of the club that the players keep. They realise them when they go somewhere else sometimes. That’s what you want. After that, the style of play. The manager has an influence on the way you play football, the idea you want to give from the game you love. The structure of the club and the way you influence the individual lives of the players as well. All that together…you want to be remembered for all of that.
You’ve answered some pretty repetitive and inane questions from us, mostly from me probably, but in general, we’ve come every week to get your words of wisdom. Are you going to miss speaking to us lot?
Yes, because nobody will ask me any more about things. You know, I always told you many times that I love football, I love the game. Every time I can talk about what I love in the game with you, I’m happy. I didn’t enjoy many press conferences because sometimes it was for different reasons, to get my emotional response. But every time I can talk about the game and the things I love in the game, I’m happy on that front. I will miss the press conferences.
Are you the last of the long-term managers? Is this a very unique press conference because we’re saying goodbye for the last time?
It is a very unique press conference, but Ferguson was the last one. I take this opportunity to wish him well, I hear he’s doing well. I think he made 26 years. I’m with 22. You have some younger managers who have already 5 or 6 years in charge, 22, I don’t know. You can never say I’m the last one. It can happen again.
There was a time when the newly promoted sides almost always went back down again. This season they have all survived. What do you think that says about the gulf between the Premier League and the Championship now?
The Premier League buys all the international players and the academies have produced some very good players so they go down to the Championship, but they are prepared when they come up. I must say, the financial power of the Championship has improved, so even in the Championship they can buy foreign players who have quality. I would say, a few years ago the Championship players were not prepared physically, that has gone. In the lower leagues they produce the same intensity, physically as the Premier League and sometimes more. The physical difference has gone completely. They have good managers as well now, the managers are educated and prepared. That’s why they survive. And, especially in the first year, they are ready for a fight. They know from the first game of the season they will have to fight to stay in the league and that creates a bond and a desire and a readiness to fight until the last second. You speak about Huddersfield, they go to City, they go to Chelsea, they play Arsenal. At the moment they haven’t lost one of the games, that is absolutely exceptional. You’d think my friends, that’s zero points in the first two games and they made two points.
In terms of the changes, you’ve seen in the Premier League? What do you think those have been and how responsible do you feel for some of them?
There are two aspects. The Premier League has created many jobs. When I arrived, we were 80 at Arsenal. We are now, today, 700. From a private little company where you know everybody we have gone to a normal company with an HR deparment where everything has to be processed, regulated. It’s not down anymore to your initiative, every single decision has to go through a process that is [the result of] an over regulated society. That’s sometimes discouraging as the human aspect has dropped a little bit. On the other hand, the financial power of the clubs has become huge. On the other hand, in 20 years the ownership has changed completely. If you look at the ownership when I arrived in England compared to what it is today it has become completely worldwide. England does not own anymore the clubs. It’s much more international. The world has become globalised and open. The competition is worldwide now for the players. These owners they buy players from all over the world. The Premier League has become a world championship. The next evolution? Maybe I will see you in a few years and you will have certainly a European League over the weekends, the domestic league will certainly be played Tuesday and Wednesday. I think that’s the next step that we will see.
Back in your first press conference, you said, “The basic strength of the club is that it has an English spirit. I took this job as a challenge and I think that Arsenal is a club with big potential.” Can you remember your first press conference and how you were feeling?
I remember how bad my English was and the curiosity that people had about me because I came from nowhere. I completely maintain what I said then. One of my jobs was to keep faith and be faithful to the qualities I have found here. The world has changed, the players are richer as well. Of course, I tried always to maintain the tradition and the values of this club as much as I could Overall, I believe I was not too bad.
What do you still want to achieve in your career?
What I want to achieve? I had a personal fight with myself in my whole life to be as good as I can be. I will continue to do that.
Looking back over your time at Arsenal, what was your best team, 1998 or the Invincibles?
Their achievement, nobody has done it since in the Premier League. I loved the team in 1998 because I found some players with quality, who were much better than I thought when I arrived here. They were very intelligent as well and they were an experienced team. After, we added a bit more exceptional quality in 2002 and 2004. Overall, maybe the Invincible team, yes.
You had a great reception at Leicester…
They love me all now.
Are you surprised? You’ve been on the front of the newspapers, BBC Radio 5Live did a special show on Friday night, did that surprise you? Or were you expecting it?
Yes, it’s a pleasant surprise. I think people respect that I tried to play football in the right way and to give pleasure to people. The most important thing…when you wake up in the morning is to go, ‘Oh, I watch Arsenal today, I have a chance to see a good game.’ That is basically what I tried to do. To give people an experience in life that is not every day. Every day is not a pleasure and I think football has a responsibility to try to give some people a special moment in their life. We do not always manage to do it, but at least you have to give them the hope that they can see something special. And that they can be transported somewhere that they do not always experience on a daily basis.
Two questions in one. Why always 8.45 in the morning for the press conferences? And would you be open to managing England one day?
First, I like that you have to get up early. I know that in the press, nobody likes to get up early, they usually started at 10 or 11. So it’s to make you suffer a little bit as well. I know if I start early, you won’t all turn up so it’ll be a bit easier for me. Will I manager England one day? I don’t know, honestly. I don’t know. I had the opportunity. At the moment I am behind England and I am behind Gareth Southgate and hopefully he will stay for 22 years.
Manchester City broke so many records this season, do you think they are going to keep going at the same level and it’ll be hard to catch them?
They will be the team to beat next season….if you look at the number of points they made and the difference between them and the others. They glide well through the Financial Fair Play [rules]. It’s a club that has a great manager, they have a great team, a very intelligent leading team, anticipate all the problems and I think they are ahead in the forward thinking. I agree with you, they will be the team to beat next season.
Are you going to keep following and watching the Premier League? And in the summer are you going to the World Cup?
I will watch the World Cup. I will be at the World Cup at the opening game between Russia and Saudi Arabia. And I will of course watch the Premier League. When I wake up in the morning, I look first at what kind of game is that night. That will not change.
One of the things that Ivan said when it was announced you were leaving was that the timing was to give you a chance to have this long goodbye. Have you enjoyed having that opportunity?
I enjoyed some aspects of it, yes. But not all. It’s not always easy to cut slowly what you do every day. You want to do it as well as you can and you don’t want to forget to thank people. There are some people here that I employed 20 years ago, who did fight for me every single day. It’s not easy to say goodbye.
The last two contracts you’ve signed were after the end of the season, was there a part of you that wanted to see how it went up to the end of the season?
Yes, of course. There was more questioning as well. You do not feel the same adhesion to what you do and you think yourself after…when you stay for such a long period, you question is it time now to go or not? When you don’t feel especially that on your side, you have to open somewhat your eyes and your ears. We live in a society where people want quick change, always. That has changed in recent years.
Have you booked a holiday yet?
Not yet, honestly, no. I don’t know what I will do. Maybe I’ll go to Russia.
What will you do for the next couple of weeks? Will you stay here, will you go back to France?
I have some work to do in France on Monday and Tuesday and after I will come back and clear my office. And that will be it. After, I don’t know.