AP Interview: Wenger's faith, football and future

Published on NewsOK Modified: October 10, 2013 at 5:55 am •  Published: October 10, 2013
Advertisement
;

LONDON (AP) — Pressure in football takes a toll on managers in different ways. For Arsene Wenger, it's meant less time for the prayers that were such a big part of his childhood.

The Arsenal manager is currently trying to end a trophy drought stretching back to 2005 that has sorely tested the patience of the club's fans. Although the task has not shaken his religious beliefs, it's not been without its consequences either.

"I prayed a lot when I was a kid because I was educated in a Catholic area," Wenger said in an interview with The Associated Press. "Religion was very strong to us, to ask the priest if I can play on Sunday afternoon ... now I am a bit less (religious) because when you are under pressure you only think of our game. How can I win the next game? And you try to be a bit more pragmatic."

The religious upbringing in eastern France, has left Wenger with a principled outlook that he has tried to uphold in his football career.

"Belief is important, and I am forever grateful for the values my religion has given," he said. "And basically if you analyze it, all the religions spread good values and positive values, and that is important that you find that in our sport."

The 63-year-old Frenchman was speaking on a visit to London's Jewish Museum surrounded by an exhibition exploring the role of British Jews in football: Football, fans and faith.

Wenger talks fondly about how "in every religious community sport is an occasion for people to get together and of course defend the values."

For some in football, in an era of rapidly expanding pay packets for players and ticket prices for fans, the sport can seem to have lost its soul. Wenger is not so disconsolate.

"Sometimes you see that professional football has moved a little bit away from very, very important values that have existed at the start of the game," he said.

"The values that are important in the game today are the same (as always)," Wenger said. "It is a respect for others. It is learning to lose. It is learning to cope with pressure. It is learning to cope with a team sport. So that is exactly the same. Of course the environment is completely different. Why? Because of professionalism and the money."

With an economics degree and as a long-time advocate of greater financial responsibility in football, Wenger has tried to adopt what he calls a "socialist model" for Arsenal's wage bill.

That becomes harder when the need the deliver success saw Wenger break Arsenal's transfer record last month to sign Mesut Ozil for 50 million euros ($66 million). Retaining the best talent in the squad also requires salaries to rise in turn.

"I always say to the players, 'Forget the money,'" Wenger said. "What is important is how well you play together, what you share together is much more important. The money is only a consequence of your experience. The real experience is the game.

"And I see that with many players who have stopped their careers. It's not the money they miss — because they have money. It's that kind of experience. To share the values of our sport, to share the values of being together. And achieving something together."