(Before we start, a tip of the metaphorical hat to apostolos, who pointed this interview out in the comments of the latest rumor thread.)
A lot of the time, when Arsene Wenger speaks, he speaks to deceive. He says "I didn't see it", or "I don't know anything about the player" or the like, and while people who follow Arsenal closely know to ignore him when he says them, because Arsene Wenger's utterances make it seem like he lives on perpetual Opposite Day, people who are more casual followers use those words as clubs with which to beat him over the head.
With the NO TROPHEEZ brigade growing tediously louder by the year, every statement he makes publicly is held up as either proof that he's past it or proof that he's an amazing manager, a really smart dude, and the right choice to lead Arsenal, depending on your point of view. I humbly offer up this interview he gave today as evidence of the latter.
He gave a talk to a group of Japanese businessmen on Friday as part of Arsenal's Japanese tour, because corporate people the world over love to think they can learn something about running a business from sports, when all they really want to do is meet sports dudes. He was frank, he was funny, he was charming, and most of all, he was Wenger through and through. I really want to unpack some of what he said, so let's dive in.
The first question was about how Arsenal finds the best talent, and was very revealing. Wenger said that one of the things he looks for is if a player "has the motivation to be successful", which is fairly standard sports-guy stuff, but then he went a bit deeper. He said:
motivation is essential but not enough. You also need consistency in your motivation and that is what we try to test in players as well.
That's the kind of bloody-mindedness Wenger looks for in a player - one who stays motivated to succeed even when it doesn't seem to be working. He used dieting as an example - if you start a diet on January 1 and quit before February, your motivation has no consistency. Arsenal look for players who, metaphorically, start a diet on January 1 and stay on it until they reach their goal.
He also says this about motivation:
That doesn't necessarily mean successful sportsmen are happy people, but it means they are determined and they are ready to hurt themselves to be successful, and that's the type we are looking for - the people that are very demanding with themselves, and each other for a long time.
So, despite Arsenal's "socialist" wage policy, he does look for players who aren't happy to coast and cash in, which is a good thing indeed.
He was asked about nurturing players into becoming world-class talents. In a quote that will undoubtedly have people whose names rhyme with Schmearzz Florgan in an uproar, he also said:
At Arsenal...we have fought against the policy of only buying stars. You have to understand that a player who is a star was, at one stage, an unknown person who had talent. We want to be the club who gives this guy a chance.
And seriously, if you take absolutely nothing else away from what is currently 517 words about this interview and is coasting towards 1,000, take that quote: "A player who is a star was, at one stage, an unknown person who had talent". This right here is the crux of Wenger's player development philosophy, and he does it better than almost anybody at this point in his career. He doesn't feel he needs stars, because he feels like he can build them.
He did draw some interesting comparisons between football and business, saying basically "you can work in an office and be at 70% of your best, but that won't work in football". Which is one of the, oh, billion reasons I didn't succeed in football. He also spoke of the challenges of managing 18-20 year olds in a high-pressure environment; we often forget that a lot of these players are, in fact, just kids, and it's good to hear that a manager does recognize that and tries to account for it in his management philosophy.
Some of my favorite parts of the interview were where he talked about the cultural differences he faces as a manager of players from many countries:
For a manager it is a dream to have a Japanese player. If you tell him to run 10 laps, you haven't even finished the sentence and he is already started. In Europe, you have to convince the player that he has to run 10 laps.
For example, being on time isn't the same for a Japanese man as it is for a Frenchman - when a Frenchman arrives five minutes late, he still thinks he is on time. In Japan, when it's five minutes before the set time he thinks he is too late.
The way Wenger addresses this at Arsenal is by basically "creating his own culture" - if I were lazy or cliche-driven, I'd call it The Arsenal Way, but that's too lofty and snotty, so I'll just say that he's figured out how to work with people from different cultures and his results bear that out.
The whole interview is really interesting - it's a side of Wenger you don't often see in his five-minute soundbite interactions with the media during the season, and it's a pretty illuminating look behind the curtain at how he conducts himself and trains his team. As another transfer season goes by with (so far) no significant player arrivals, I think it's important to read something like this and understand that Arsenal are, in fact, in the best possible set of hands to guide them going forward, and to put them in a position to win the Premier League - something that Arsene Wenger is only one of two current Premier League managers to ever do, by the way.
Trophies or not, I'm still thrilled that Arsene Wenger is Arsenal's manager, and reading interviews like this just reinforces that for me.