Arsene Wenger spoke to Bild in the wake of Per Mertesacker’s testimonial game, and touched about a wide variety of topics, including his time off, when he might return to work and, as he’s very much an Alsatian, what we can learn from dogs.
Lewis Ambrose (@LGAmbrose) provides the translation.
Mr Wenger, after 22 years at Arsenal you’ve found yourself ‘retired’ for three-and-a-half months. How are you holding up?
It’s new for me! Previously everything was hectic, now everything’s peaceful. Except Per Mertesacker’s charity game in Hannover. It’s good to have variety. Football remains my main concern.
During the summer, you implied you’d be back in the game after three months…
It looks like it! I think it’ll be time to get going again on 1st January.
I still don’t know. I’m well rested and ready to work again.
Well you’re forcing us to ask now: is Bayern Munich a possibility? You were in talks with them three times already. In 1994, Franz Beckenbauer and Uli Hoeness even came to Monaco but the club wouldn’t let you go.
They didn’t give up! But I was very loyal to Arsenal, I rejected all of Europe. Real Madrid, Juventus, Bayern. All because my plans at Arsenal were coming to fruition. Amongst other things, building the stadium without any outside investment. We bought the land for £128m and everything has been paid back. The banks wanted me to sign a five-year contract but giving us any money.
Must Bayern get out of their crisis without you?
That’s not the question Bayern have to ask. Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge are strong enough to fight against that. They have shown trust in Niko Kovac and must stick with him.
Real Madrid are in a bit of a crisis as well…
It’s not 100 per cent that I’ll go to a club. There are also national teams and associations. It could also be a return to Japan. Thanks to my 22 years at Arsenal I have a lot of experience at so many levels. There are requests all around the world to develop football. What’s beautiful about the game and what’s bad, those things remain, the things I admire and the things I condemn. The development over the last 20 years has been peculiar.
20 years ago, footballers played for the clubs. Now the clubs do everything for the players. Before, when the player was bad, he felt guilty. Nowadays the club feel guilty about the player, they ask what more they can do for him. Society has gone through the same thing. The state is always at fault. The responsibility has moved from the individual to the state. In football, the big players now have a club within the club. They have agents, fitness trainers, physics, social media specialists, video analysts. Fans have also changed.
Nowadays, fans have become international. Local fans do indeed remain local fans. Dortmund fans in the vicinity of Dortmund will always go to Dortmund. But when Ronaldo moves from Real Madrid to Juventus, fans follow him. From an international perspective, players are more interesting than their clubs. That gives the players a lot of power. Neymar is at PSG and he has 170 million followers. He’s stronger than the entire league.
What are the consequences of that?
In the next five years, it could go so far that social media decides which players to change during a match.
How would that work?
At half-time you have a vote on which players would come on and off during the second half. It will happen! The power of the clubs is only reducing. Because of that, the minds leading clubs have to become stronger. There must be a bigger fightback against outside influences.
At Bayern Uli Hoeness (66) and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (63) will at some point call it a day.
I think they still have a couple of years before they stop. They need to organise the transition. It’s better when the power stays with former players. Only Beckenbauer, Hoeness and Rummenigge know if that will work again. Philipp Lahm has great qualities. Oliver Kahn. It’s very important that they take over. Football is something that lives within your body. You can’t learn that. It’s a mixture of deep knowledge and competitive experience.
What needs to change?
All the big clubs have so many people. People who aren’t efficient. People who don’t understand what competitive football truly is.
Did you experience that at Arsenal?
No, I was very fortunate to lead the club and make the decisions myself. I’ve done over 300 transfers, dealing with all the contracts myself. No manager in England today makes a single transfer.
Not even Pep Guardiola?
No. There’s too much money in play now. When you aren’t experienced, you could lose €10m in the space of 10 minutes. Or win it! (Laughs). The managers now have a team, and a team in the environment of the team. In England now there’s a bus for the players and a bus for the coaches. You have too many coaches, analysts, scientists. It takes up too much time to also govern the team and its problems.
You won the title three times in England, in 2004 without losing a game. Always at the top of the table, seven FA Cups, no Champions League…
The manager has three opportunities to influence something: the individual career of the players; the style of the team; the worth of the club. They are bigger than the results alone. Arsenal is respected all over the world. When I go to Africa or South America, the people love Arsenal. All over.
What about Mesut Ozil? Has he been ‘crap’ the last three years as Uli Hoeness has said?
I don’t want to get myself involved. This is more political than sporting. It’s very sensitive between Turkey and Germany. Ozil is a superb footballer, he wasn’t the worst at the World Cup. I don’t love that he’s retired from the national team. Germans have respect for how he’s performed.
Why should he have carried on?
Because a little bit of the motivation disappears when you know you don’t have to be ready for the Euros or for a World Cup. I love it when a player is as good as possible. When he’s not playing internationally, a little something is lost.
What were Germany missing at the World Cup?
It’s happened to all of the world champions. France 2002, Italy 2010, Spain 2014, Germany 2018. It’s difficult to retain the hunger. World champions think, for four years, they are the best in the world. That’s not the case. Maybe you play just iz weeks later and you’re no longer the best team in the world. In tennis you can be number one in August and number 50 in November. Football’s the same.
And when a player – according to you – shouldn’t retire, who can tell him that he should continue?
The manager. The manager! I believe, Germany need Özil. I hope Löw can convince him to come back.
You said the following: I’m glad for every free day. Then I can watch football on TV the whole day. And the dog can watch me.
My life as someone from Alsace has built me up in an organised way, as if I was in German company. In a village you have a football club that come up in conversation every single week. I was raised in a small pub, it was like the clubhouse. Since I was 2 I only watched football and I believed it was the only important thing in life.
However, you read intelligent books and it brought you to a diploma in economics.
And I wouldn’t change that. In my years as a kid, football wasn’t that popular. When I went out with a girl, I wouldn’t say I played football. Instead I said “I’m a student”.
Some people get ill when from one day to the next they suddenly have no stress.
I’ve worked for 35 years. I’ve come through it well. Maybe because I started young, at 33, I managed to adjust to the stress. When you start this job too late, the stress is too much.
Well that means it looks pretty good for Hoffenheim’s Julian Nagelsmann (31), Schalke’s Domenico Tedesco (33), Werder Bremen’s Florian Kohfeldt (36).
Yes, it’s better when they start earlier. Then they know if they’re made for the job or not. If they like it, if they’re good enough. That’s a good trend. Especially when experience can be important in this job.
So when does someone reach the point where they’re allowed to say: ‘I’m done with this!’?
At 45, I believe.
So was it right that Bayern went for Kovac (47), not a younger manager like Nagelsmann?
Experience plays a big part if you are able to handle a big club. Respect comes hand in hand with experience. The players need to see that you’ve already proven that you can work at that level.
A world class player like James Rodriguez feels uneasy at Bayern, because he thinks he’s at a disadvantage. Then he scores one of his typical wonder goals for Colombia against the USA…
Players very quickly start to believe they aren’t loved enough. That has nothing to do with love, but with balance in the team. I’ve had a lot of big players who I didn’t always play from the beginning [after arriving at the club], sometimes for six months. They still went on to have great careers. For instance, Thierry Henry or Robin van Persie. There are others. They were either just young or lacking the defensive quality to play.
Can a manager sleep peacefully when he has to do things which hurt players?
The manager has to feel that everything makes sense. When he has to put together a team for the weekend on a Friday night, it all has to fit right before he can close his eyes. That often has nothing to do with the quality or the character of the players.
You’ve stayed very slim through all the stress, now the same when things are peaceful. How have you managed that?
In England, people don’t eat too well (laughs). I’m Alsatian, I love pastries, sweets, apple pie, ice cream. I guess it’s just down to my genes. At the moment I also have the time to do sports. I weigh 75kg and I’m 1.89m tall.
What about the passion for football in England impressed you most?
If you get a tattoo in England, it’s either the name of your children or your club. Everything else can change but [your club] never does.
If you sign a contract elsewhere, will you say goodbye to England?
London will always be my home. I have a 21-year-old daughter. She studies at Cambridge.
Do you still have a dog?
Yes, the dog sets a great example. It doesn’t matter to him whether you win or lose (laughs).