It is a characterization Wenger recognizes. His approach to management was all-encompassing. He prepared, he said, like a “top-level athlete: I never went out, never went to a disco, ate early, did my gym.” His approach, he writes, was “monastic.”
That came at a cost. Amid the recollections of his great teams, his new book is at its most compelling when he sheds even a glimmer of light on the personal sacrifices. Management, he writes, is “lonely.” More than once, he hints that he did not spend quite so much time with his daughter, Lea, as he might have done. (His pride in her is evident: There are several mentions of her academic success at Cambridge University.)
“If you want success, you have to commit completely,” he said, when asked if he regretted that approach. “No matter what kind of life you lead, you have to find the meaning in that life. I did that. Football was the meaning in my life. I have no regrets on that.
“But, like every single-minded life, it develops some aspects and kills others. When you are in competition, you become tough. You kill your sensitivity. You focus on efficiency and winning, but don’t develop other parts of your personality. I regret that. But I don’t regret the life I lived. I would do it the same way again.”
His dedication to the game remains. The metaphors he chooses speak of both a higher calling and a base addiction. Even now, he said, “a day without football is like a day without mass for a priest,” he said. He misses management — or, more, the basic tenet of being a coach, helping “players to maximize the talent they have” — because “if you take a drug every day for 36 years, you miss it, even if it does not mean you take it again.”