Arsène Wenger has sacrificed his life during his long tenure at Arsenal to the extent that he says it has been akin to joining the priesthood. The club’s manager describes himself as a “specialist in masochism” and he is perfectly clear that 90% of the job is aggravation.
At the age of 67, and with a vocal element of the Arsenal support baying for him to quit when his contract expires in the summer, it is easy to wonder why on earth he would want to continue. But there are times when Wenger speaks with such power about his chosen path that it is plain he could not live without it.
Thursday morning was one of those times. And, when he added that his preference would be to stay on at Arsenal, it was difficult not to conclude that he was leaning towards signing the two-year extension which has been offered to him by the club.
“This job has allowed me to get to the next level as a human being and to develop my strengths in what makes a human being great,” Wenger said. “To get the best out of people – that is absolutely fantastic. Of course, you have disappointments with people and results.
“But it is a fantastic opportunity in life to go for what is really great in human beings – to get yourself to the next level, to improve, to invent yourself, to push your limits further up and not to have an average life. It is very interesting if you really face the challenge by accepting as well, in an objective way, what you have to do to get better.”
For Luis Enrique, Barcelona’s manager, the relentless demands of the job have become too much. He has announced that he will step down from his post at the end of the season – “I need to rest,” he said – while Wenger was also reminded that Pep Guardiola took a year-long sabbatical to recharge his batteries after he left Barcelona in 2012.
Wenger joked that “because of you [in the press], I will have 10 years out” but it feels revealing that while younger managers at the elite level have felt spent, at various times – both physically and emotionally – he continues to plod on.
“Everybody experiences the job in a different way,” Wenger said. “What I can say is, yes, it’s very demanding. It’s a sacrifice of your life. You have nothing else happening in your life. Basically, you get 90% aggravation and 10% top satisfaction and you have to give everything in your life for that. I always say to all the young people who want to go into this job: ‘Are you ready to sacrifice your life?’ It’s like a priest. You’re a football priest.”
Wenger has, inevitably, been linked to the upcoming vacancy at Barcelona but he gave short shrift to the notion. “Would I be interested in the Barcelona job? No,” he said. “My preference has always been the same and it will remain the same. I’ve had many times the opportunity to leave, so I don’t think I have to convince you that my preference has always been Arsenal.
“Of course, I am objective and lucid enough to make the right decision for myself and the club, as well. The club is free to make the decision it wants and I will respect that. I am not looking for jobs in other clubs or jobs off other people. I am focused on me, getting to the next level and trying to improve and always trying to see what you can do better and reinvent yourself – that’s what I try to do.”
Wenger’s detractors among the Arsenal support will mock his talk of improvement and reinvention, given the reason they want him out is that he has overseen, broadly, the same season many times over. They would argue it is too late for him to change his ways. But the subtext to Wenger’s comments is that he intends to take himself – and Arsenal – to the next level.
Whether Wenger stays or goes has long since entered the realm of the soap opera and the plot has lurched one way and then the other. After a bad defeat, such as those at Chelsea and Bayern Munich, his mood is always black and he questions himself. Yet his natural optimism invariably returns.
The latest indications are that Wenger looks likelier to re-sign than resign but he says himself that he has not made the definitive decision. The levels of uncertainty remain chronic and the situation is fragile, at the mercy of being buffeted by results. Next up for Arsenal is Saturday’s visit to Liverpool.