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Arsene Wenger at Arsenal: 21 years, 21 things you might not know

Arsene Wenger is the only manager to have gone through an EPL campaign without a single defeat.

arsene wenger, wenger, arsenal, Gunners, football, premier league, uefa champions league, champions league, sports news, indian express Arsene Wenger is more than just records and statistics. (Source: File)

He won the “double” (league and FA Cup) twice, won the premier league three times, the FA Cup seven times, has been in charge for a record 823 games, is the only manager to have gone through an EPL campaign without a single defeat, and notwithstanding a rather barren run in Europe, is considered by many to be the man who changed English football.

But there is more to Arsene Wenger than just records and statistics. So as the Arsenal manager announced his decision to end his 21-year reign at the club, we decided to take a look at some lesser-known aspects of the man and his tenure at Arsenal:

1. Arsene Wenger’s appointment as Arsenal’s manager in October 1996 came as a big surprise to many people. Arsenal had been seen as a very “English” club so the fact that a Frenchman was hired was a bit of a surprised. The fact that he was not the most high-profile manager around (his last assignment was in Japan) did not help his cause. The Evening Standard carried a famous headline on his appointment: “Arsene Who?”.

2. Things did not get much better in his first season. The man who would be his greatest rival, Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, famously said: “Wenger has been in Japan…he doesn’t know anything about English football…he’s at a big club, well, the used to be a big club, Arsenal…he should keep his mouth shut, firmly shut.”

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3. Guess what shocked the Arsenal players most about their new manager? The fact that he thanked them after their first practice session! English managers were supposed to be gruff, tough figures not afraid of cussing. “This tall, slightly built man who gave no impression whatsoever of being a football manager,” is how Lee Dixon remembers their first sight of Wenger in training.

4. Wenger’s first major challenge in English football was not tactics or the players, but evidently, the food. He was alarmed at the amount of butter, oil, sugar, chocolate and alcohol going around (“If you had a fantasy world of what you shouldn’t eat in sport, it’s what you eat here,” he famously remarked), and worked overtime to replace them with healthier options – many credit him with putting pasta on the football menu!

5. Of course, the players did not take too kindly to this change of diet. Before his first game in charge, against Blackburn Rovers, Wenger shocked the team by confiscating all the chocolate the players had. Cue the players singing “We want our Mars Bars” in the team bus. By all accounts, Wenger did not give them any. And Arsenal won 2-0!

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6.Two of the things that Arsene Wenger banned at Arsenal were: ketchup and room service! The former was for diet reasons, and the latter perhaps because he had grown up in a restaurant and appreciated people doing their own work.

7.Wenger is known for being quite absent minded at times, leading to some calling him the “nutty professor.” He evidently once did not realise that the food had fallen off his plate until he sat down to eat it. And even more recently, he seemed to have forgotten the name of the English team’s manager!

8.He might appear immaculate and organised, but he can be alarmingly clumsy. This side of him surfaced at the strangest times, often when it came to opening bottles of water. It led Ray Parlour to dub him “Inspector Closeau” after the character in the legendary Pink Panther films.

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9.He likes reading, has an ear for music, but if there is something he loves above all, it is watching football. “Football is his obsession,” says writer Philippe Auclair. He is even known to watch old football videos during off season. Another writer Henry Winter says that on Wenger’s sixtieth birthday, the media asked him to go with them to West End, but he preferred watching a Bundesliga game. He did promise to put candles on top of the TV, though.

10.He is supposed to be a connoisseur of fine wine, and has a soft corner for Bordeaux. However, Sir Alex Ferguson never forgave him for joining him in a post-match drink, a bit of a English football tradition.

11.How many English managers have an asteroid named after them? Well, orbiting between Mars and Jupiter is an asteroid called 33179ArseneWenger. It did help that the astronomer who discovered the asteroid in 1998, Ian P. Griffin, was an Arsenal fan.

12.Favourite animal? Horses. No wonder his teams have so much accent on style and speed, eh?

13.Ever wondered why Wenger was so comfortable signing a number of foreign players for Arsenal? Well, one reason could be that he never had any language problems. The man can speak French, English, German, Spanish, Italian and yes, even Japanese.

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14.Speaking of which, in spite of being known as Le Professeur (‘The Teacher’) for his slightly academic look and approach to football and even life at times, Wenger has written only one book (hell, Wayne Rooney is half his age and has already written more). It was called The Spirit of Conquest, and was written in 1997. It was written in Japanese!

15.His favourite music? Bob Marley. Because Wenger feels the man was not fabricated, but real. Difficult to disagree with that.

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16. He may have liked Marley but once when the Arsenal team decided to come up with a playlist of songs that everyone liked to hear before a match to get pumped, Wenger’s suggestion evidently was a number by Frank Sinatra! Not high-adrenaline stuff, eh? Typical.

17.Wenger had a great eye for detail. He made sure that the seats in the dining room of the players were adjusted in such a manner that everyone could be comfortable. He also had the grass on the training ground relaid, choosing grass which would minimise accidental slides and tumbles, thus cutting down training ground injuries.

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18.He might be seen as a very studious and serious person, but Wenger is known to have a temper. And is one of the few managers who has physically pushed his opposite number during matches – ask Alan Pardew(https://youtu.be/L0SGosF-Hhg) and Jose Mourinho (https://youtu.be/dicnsGfUAyA), both of whom were on the end of Wenger shoves on the touchline.

19.Always a fastidious dresser, Wenger was rarely seen in anything less than formal wear. He even ended up playing beach volleyball in Brazil during the 2014 World Cup in a t-shirt and shorts that definitely seemed on the longer side. But perhaps the best example of his concern for wardrobe was seen after the 2014 FA Cup win. His ecstatic players poured champagne on him. Wenger let it happen with a slightly embarrassed smile. And then changed his shirt on the pitch before the press conference.

20.But just because he dressed well did not mean that Wenger had complete mastery over his wardrobe. His struggle with jacket zips inspired hundreds of memes and gifs. And became so popular that Puma once advertised a jacket claiming that its zip would never jam, and featured Wenger in it (https://youtu.be/vpKreNR0ZzM). Alas, the jacket’s zip jammed in real life. Cue more memes and gifs!

21.Say whatever you might about the man, but you cannot deny his innate humanity. He refused to give up on Tony Adams even when the Arsenal captain felt his career was over due to alcohol problems. When former Arsenal legend Bob Wilson, the goalkeeping coach of the team, lost his daughter, Wenger would sit with him after training and talk about the human spirit. He was also very supportive of Emmanuel Petit when the French midfielder’s brother passed away. There are many who consider Wenger to be as much a philosopher as a football manager.

First published on: 20-04-2018 at 09:00:20 pm
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