French football manager and former player Arsène Wenger, who also holds the title as longest-serving manager of the Arsenal Football Club, is taking on a new responsibility as part of the
Find out more about the manager who helped revolutionize football in England in the late 1990s, and learn why he’s excited about this year’s competition.
How and when did your love of football begin?
When I was 13, my dad saw me kicking a ball about with my friends and decided to start a team. I should point out that I was brought up in a little restaurant that served as headquarters for my town’s football club in Alsace. There was a Sunday football team and a selection committee for who was going to play. It was passionate stuff!
Where you just as involved back then?
Yes. Sometimes I’d say to myself, “They’re making a big mistake with that player!” I recently said to a friend that I had no choice with my career, and ended up where I was supposed to end up.
Which team do you support?
Strasbourg, my home team, will always be my number-one club. They used to play in the first division and I loved it when my uncle took me to watch a match. Coming from a village full of fields and horses, it was like being on another planet!
Why do you think football has such universal appeal?
I think football has become extremely popular for three reasons. Firstly, it doesn’t matter if you’re big or small; if you’re good you can play. Some of the best players in the world have been the smallest. The second reason is that you don’t need a formal set-up to play football. You can play in the street with an orange or a ball of paper and score a goal between two stones. Third, and I think this is probably what makes us suffer the most but also gives us hope, is that football is the most unpredictable team sport there is!
Tell us more about your role as a manager.
I’ve always believed that the first role of a manager is to be a teacher. I don’t think the philosophy of the game can survive without this purpose. I think an individual’s qualities need to be nurtured and guided in the right direction. A successful life involves the coming together of someone with talent who wants to do well and someone giving that person a chance, putting them on the right path to achieve their goals.
Which fans from around the world have grabbed your attention most?
When I was in Nagoya, Japan, there were a lot of girls in the crowd. The Japanese fans go crazy and love to chant. But whenever we lost, the crowd would go quiet and cameras would zoom in on the tears streaming down the girls’ faces. They were really suffering!
And in England?
In England, it’s like the fans experience every moment of the match: every pass, every tackle, every corner. Their outward emotion really supports the players.
What are you like as a fan?
I can watch a match in two ways. If the game is really important to me and I want to focus on the technical aspects or a player’s individual performance, then I’ll watch it alone. I get totally absorbed. But I prefer getting together with friends and family around the table to live it, and talk about it afterwards. Once the match is over, everyone gives their opinion and the debate starts to heat up. You can’t beat it!
UEFA EURO 2016™ takes place in France from June 10 to July 10, and