Book Review: Wenger: The making of a Legend

Last updated : 21 August 2003 By Brian Dawes

The ultimate book on Wenger will probably never be written unless the great man decides to produce an autobiography, which I somehow doubt will happen. He's a hard man to get close to it seems, and this volume is only as good as it is because it has been researched by obtaining unprecedented access to Wenger's circle of friends and colleagues. Arsene must have known about this book being written but didn't stop his friends or mentors such as Max Hild from giving Jasper Rees a good insight into how and why he became what he is today. Namely one of the games most respected coaches, sought after by Barcelona and Real Madrid to name but two.

The book starts with Wenger's childhood in Alsace and then follows an undistinguished playing career, his various coaching experiences at Nancy, Monaco, Nagoya Grampus Eight and finally his highly successful revolution at 'The Home of Football'. Jasper Rees shows us that Arsene was and is a perpetual student of the game, and in fact was almost a perpetual student. We learn how Le Boss developed and honed the skills of his trade and about the gradual progress of a man few had heard of at almost every step of his career. Being both a late developer and at best a journeyman footballer Arsene was never fast tracked as so many ex-professional superstars are these days in the management field. His is in the main a self taught skill with limited access to, as with the international players, top of the tree coaches to show him what the professional stars require. Wenger's progress has been a steady development of an acquired skill made possible by a searching and resourceful mind. His coaching certificates took longer, his gradual movement up the manager's greasy pole was prolonged and his ambitions were not always noticeably apparent. But you feel he was born to be a coach as this narrative explains.

Intriguing is the word that springs most readily to mind when reading this book. Intriguing that a man who used Mark Hateley at Monaco to batter his League opponents would later ditch John Hartson at Highbury. Intriguing that he relied on Hoddle as his creative playmaker in France but decided after observing the 1994 World Cup that changes to the rules meant the days of such a generalissimo were neigh. How a man with such a modest start in football should rise to become such an irritating thorn in the side of Ferguson, one of the world's most successful managers ever at one of the world's richest clubs is much more than intriguing. Just how Arsene Wenger has enabled Arsenal to punch so much above their weight in a game that is currently dominated by the money-men is a miracle to behold. His never-ending workaholic tendencies and perpetual perusal of football throughout the globe appears to be a love affair with the sport that became the ultimate hobby. When talking to an agent Arsene is quoted as saying 'The difference between you and me is that if tomorrow there were no more money in football I'd still be here, but not you'.

The story that has it's roots in Alsace, spreads through France and Germany, sidetracks to Japan and finally explodes in England. Arsene Wenger now has a mission and having read the book I'm convinced that he'll either take Arsenal to the very top or die trying. His thirst for footballing knowledge together with a free rein at one of the world's most respected clubs will surely result in a legacy for which Gooners will be forever grateful. Few if any imagined that 'Arsene Who?' might emerge as a greater manager than the legendary Herbert Chapman but now it's a distinct possibility, some would argue probability.

I should also mention the 30 plus colour photos which include some action pictures of Arsene as a player and a rare picture of his stunning partner Annie Brosterhous on one of Mr Wenger's rare nights out. As a footnote and nothing whatsoever to do with the book I think Gooners everywhere owe David Dein a huge vote of thanks for persuading the board to take a chance on an unknown foreigner who just happened to revolutionise English football.

Wenger: The Making of a Legend - Jasper Rees
Published by Short Books
Price £14.99

You should be able to order this title from any decent bookstore if you quote the following reference number ISBN 1 904095 54 2

Your favourite online bookstore will no doubt also oblige but if you're off to Highbury in the near future the Matchday Fanzine & Memorabilia Stall in Gillespie Road, opposite the North Bank entrance will be selling this Jasper Rees book for £13.00