EXCLUSIVE: ‘I will go back to football’ – Arsene Wenger opens up
Arsene Wenger admits he found it a “strange” experience watching Arsenal after 22 years in charge of them.
But Wenger has clearly become increasingly used to life without the Gunners, football management generally and the all-consuming stress of being one of the game’s highest-profile figures.
Now 69, he is enjoying his new-found freedom, spending time with the friends and family who were sacrificed for all those years and is even planning to write an autobiography revealing all about his time at Arsenal.
The Frenchman runs around eight kilometres every day - he still wears one of his old Gunners tracksuits - and follows the club closely, though has deliberately avoided doing any TV punditry on their games.
After being under the spotlight for so long, Wenger is reluctant to pass comment on or seen to be critical of Arsenal or his successor Unai Emery because life has moved on.
He admits he expected to return to management much sooner - there is still a job offer on the table from top French club Lyon - but as he talks it quickly becomes apparent he might not return to the touchline at all.
“It was a bit strange at the start, but my mind is quite well trained to focus on what I want to focus on,” said Wenger. “I neglected a lot all the people around me, so I had a bit more time. As well, I thought, 'Do I go straight back into that heat again?'
“It is not so much the heat but once you go in there, there is nothing else. So I thought, 'Let’s take a bit of time. OK, two months, three months.' Now, I have a problem to get in again!
“I will go back into football, for sure. In what position I don’t know, whether that is as a manager or not. The appetite, the desire, is still there. I know what kind of life I have in front of me, so I have to decide that now.”
His first steps back into football have come as an investor and partner in football technology company PlayerMaker, which installs microchips in players' boots to track every imaginable piece of data.
Wenger, of course, was a trailblazer when he first arrived in English football, his new training methods, dietary rules and tactics transformed Arsenal, together with his soundbites becoming back-page headline gold.
Football management was an addiction, he could not walk away. And yet, 12 months on from leaving Arsenal, he looks fitter than ever, 10 years younger and was fascinating when just chatting about his former club and how things changed there towards the end.
His autobiography will surely be a best-seller and he has become an excellent TV pundit as well as being proud of the legacy he has left as the north London club’s most successful manager ever.
Wenger added: “I enjoyed it (the past 12 months) a lot. I do different things, with less intensity.
“But I have a better perspective of what is going on. I see the mistakes managers make and I don’t pay the price for it.
“Of course I miss it. You don’t work for such a long time, I worked for 40 years in management, and then you walk out and say you don’t miss it. It’s normal. But when I miss it I focus on something different in life.
“You have seen me on telly. I read a lot, do a lot of different sports, daily, so that occupies me. I travelled a lot. I did a lot of game observation, charity, many conferences — on football, on management, on motivation, on the meaning of life.
“I, personally, don’t know what it means!
“It was enjoyable to get away from stress. I am always under stress a little bit, but what was a good feeling is I don’t have to get up or if I have an interesting lunch I don’t have to leave because I have a commitment.
“I discovered that freedom of time in front of you. It is a good feeling.
"Originally I said I will manage straight away again. Then I thought maybe I’d take a little distance. I came to the conclusion I want to share what I learned in my life because I think life is only useful if at some stage you share what you know.
“I don’t know how much legacy I left. You do your job like you think you have to do it. I know I gave my best and I tried always to move forward. I think in a club, you can leave a trace in the spirit of the players, in the legs of the players but, as well, inside the club.”
Wenger has always tried not to turn his home into a museum or just rooms full of memorabilia, but there is one trophy - the unique gold Premier League trophy given to him last year to commemorate the unbeaten Invincibles season of 2003-04 - which he holds dear.
He added: “Yes, it is at my home. It is one of the few things I kept because that was, of course, the immaculate season.”
His stamp of class and success will never be forgotten.
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