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Wenger: The Making of a Legend Hardcover – 7 Aug 2003
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"An enthralling and insightful account of this intensely private man." -- Tony Adams
In the years since his arrival at Highbury, Arsene Wenger has made Arsenal FC double double winners and transformed the reputation of English football in general. Jasper Rees has been granted access to Wenger's friends and family, players and rival managers, to write the untold story behind this deeply private man. He follows him from childhood in Alsace, through his stints as a journeyman player, to his days as a coach at Nancy, Monaco, Grampus Eight and finally Arsenal, where with his revolutionary ideas about man-management, psychology, diet and fitness, he has turned a team of old English crocks, young French misfits and a Dutch master or two into one of the most sublime footballing teams ever seen.
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Overall an excellent book.
Sure, Rees paints a pretty picture and has done his research but on the whole, his storytelling ability isn't on a par with the great sports writers and this book would struggle to reach an average rating amongst my collection.
For mine, not enough attention was paid to the man himself nor his tactics, it was a lot of opinions from old men who knew him when he was younger but hardly any insights into Wenger's thoughts, particularly at some of the more trying moments in his career this was lacking.
If your a Wenger nut or a Gooner, go ahead, if your looking for a good read, keep on looking.
The Arsenal section is great. Particularly how he dealt with the paedophile rumours, his relationship with Tony Adams (from the captain's point of view) and his endearing clumsiness.
But there are some omissions in this book: while there is some essential detail about Arsene's childhood, (the impact of living in a family bistro on his approach to defending set pieces is for all to see, and the refusal of his father to buy him spectacles at a formative age gave him the unique eyesight he has today), there are some gaps in a book which is said to be exhaustive but which could have been a three volume set.
As a fan of Wenger's athleticism, I would have liked to have known when he first was given a bicycle, for example, or how the Revolutionary Anarchist Parisian spirit of 1968 influenced his views on team discipline (it must have), or indeed whether the Rubik cube craze of the mid-1980s helped train the huge Wenger mind.
There is also a lack of detail on Wenger's life in Japan (no pictures of his house! No information on his attitude to Kimono dragons and other Japanese phenomena!); his own diet; the music he likes; or how he spends Christmas (or for that matter Easter), all of which I yearned to learn about.
There is also limited detail about how he revolutionised Arsenal's training ground. Such as it is, the information about the pool, the pitches and the medical centre is completely fascinating, but there are only about eight pages on this, and understandably the author fails to cram in details about the materials used, or for that matter the overall vibe/aesthetic.
There are some incredibly interesting insights though. The decision of Wenger to paint the walls of the club canteen calming pastel colours was an astonishing psychological leap, which most have turned Sir Alex a most unpastel shade with envy!
Another extraordinary surge forward was Wenger's adjustment of the club diet - he eschewed the previous staple of lager, chasers, pool, gambling and a kebab - was replaced by an echt-Buddhist diet sans Kronenbourg. This soon raised the passing, movement, shooting, lunging, diving and punching of the first team to another level.
I would have liked to have seen more about the titanic (but ultimately mismatched) struggle between Wenger - le Professeur - and the Govan dockyard upstart that is 'Sir' Alex Ferguson. Both reflect their clubs' cultures, Wenger especially so with his cosmopolitan sophistication, refined tastes and general aura of poshness.
There can be no doubt, for example, that Wenger's honorary OBE is fitting, whilst Ferguson's KBE is entirely inappropriate for a man of his social position. Ferguson's interest in wine is typically parvenu, whilst Wenger's is the mark of Continental je ne sais quois.
Rees does insufficient justice to Wenger as a man of quality, a gentleman in a world of players. It is a unfortunate omission, therefore, that Rees does not confirm my suspicion that Wenger is - like myself - a Daily Telegraph reader.
All in all, not so much a book as an existential manual, which I have taken to reading to my work-subordinates to remind them that to win in life, one must always think quickly, sometimes show beauty, but often spit, gouge and even cheat. And even then you might only finish second.
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