In November, he appeared on Desert Island Discs. After the disappointment of the book, it was a relief to encounter the Wenger I knew and loved: funny and urbane, with quite nerdy taste in music. His one luxury, he said, would be a football. He was asked how he relaxed these days. The famously not-relaxed Wenger replied: ‘I relax by watching other managers suffer and think, “It’s your turn now, my friend.”’
My Life in Red and White is a disappointment to those of us who anticipated the sort of book at which Wenger once hinted. No score-settling, and very little explanation of some of the more puzzling moments in his career are on offer. There is also a reluctance to address football’s less edifying excrescences, from racist fans to internal corruption (Wenger now works for the game’s governing body, FIFA). Instead, there is a surprisingly honest self-portrait of an obsessive, driven man, who decided that the game really could be beautiful, and was prepared to sacrifice himself to that belief.
Wenger’s prose is most convincing when he is writing as a manager, as an expert interpreter of the game: “Passing the ball is communicating with another person… It’s… an act of intelligence and generosity. What I call technical empathy.” But his style often becomes bureaucratic, as if he is writing a coaching manual or his curriculum vitae rather than telling the story of his life: “A club depends on three things in order to grow: strategy, planning and application.”
There are a million questions that Arsenal fans would want Wenger to answer. The answers, unfortunately, are either missing altogether from My Life in Red and White, or expressed in a way that is long familiar to us: the English players stopped drinking and eating Mars bars; he used to have his ups and downs with Ferguson but they get on fine now. Meanwhile Mourinho, who cast a long shadow over some of Wenger’s most difficult years, appears once in the book, in a table provided at the end showing his head-to-head record against rival managers. (Wenger beat Steve McClaren 83.3% of the time; he beat Mourinho 10% of the time.)... Perhaps there will be another, more revealing book, when he has stopped work altogether.