For years, Arsene Wenger teased us with a dream. A dream that was filled with anecdotes, revelations and glorious details.
‘Maybe one day, I will write a book,’ he would say, with a faint smile that promised so much. We all knew there was more to all the triumphs, travails and tribulations of his reign and here, in our former manager, was the key to unlock the archives. In a stroke, all the moments that still burn brightly in our minds would be further illuminated with all the things we couldn’t know.
What stoked the flames of dislike with Jose Mourinho? What was said to upset Robin van Persie? Why didn’t he call Ashley Cole? what of Wojciech Szczesny, Samir Nasri, Stan Kroenke, Alexis Sanchez, the Battle of the Buffet, the 2008 league title meltdown?
It was with all those questions (and more) swirling that I took eagerly to My Life in Red and White. Here, at last, was access to the ‘restricted section’, here was a chance to hear it all from the horse’s mouth. Here was closure.
‘Never meet your heroes’ goes the famous adage, I wouldn’t recommend reading about them either.Blog on you Gunners
In the end, though, my questions went largely unanswered, the details I had pined for were missing, and the closure I had craved was more elusive to me than ever. This wasn’t the book I had longed for.
In truth, Arsene’s musings are more a philosophy on life than a revelatory account of his 22 years at Arsenal. There is precious little revealed that many Arsenal obsessives would not already have heard or guessed. This is the book Arsene wanted to write, not the one I wanted.
Maybe it was naïve to hope for more. ‘Never meet your heroes’ goes the famous adage, I wouldn’t recommend reading about them either.
If nothing else, what is clear above all is Arsene’s love for the game and for the club. It can never be doubted that he sacrificed a great deal to make Arsenal as successful as it could possibly be, to the detriment of his own wellbeing at times. His commitment to work and learn shines through the pages of the book, from his very beginnings in Alsace, right through to his later years in north London. His commitment to the cause was unwavering, even as the team entered an unassailable decline.
You sense, still, that Arsene believes he could have carried on at Arsenal, that he had no desire to depart when he did. He alludes to a feeling of injustice, both at a section of the fanbase and, indeed, to a number of people in the boardroom (unnamed, of course) for bringing about his end. It is, perhaps, that feeling of injustice or unfinished business that has prevented him from attending the Emirates since 2018.
But go further than allude Arsene does not. Tactful to the last, if there is any revelation to be found, it must be done so by reading between the lines. ‘Being hard on him does not work’, Arsene notes of Mesut Ozil, no doubt aware of the trouble the German had encountered under Unai Emery and of the trouble he still faces under Mikel Arteta. But the philosophical Frenchman goes no further than this. Nor does he address the fact that many players believed Ozil was given preferential treatment during his tenure, handed days off when he wanted.
During endless press conferences over the years, Arsene rarely courted controversy and to that trait the Frenchman holds in his book. That is not to say there aren’t nice reminisces and opportunities to reflect on key moments and players. In that way, My Life in Red and White is like a photo album, it captures moments in time that the reader can look at and enjoy but what lies behind the eyes of those pictured, the places and the feelings, can only be guessed at.
To that end, I wouldn’t discourage anybody from buying the book. Who doesn’t like to flick through an old photo album, after all? But, if it is the bigger picture you seek, you would do better to follow the series of interviews Arsene has done in support of the book. Much and more has been teased from him, slowly but surely, by numerous journalists that complements what appears on the pages.