Arsene Wenger shows today how a childhood in a devout Catholic, hard-working household led him to thrive in the high-pressure world of professional football.
The former Arsenal manager tells BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs that long hours in the family bistro while growing up in the French village of Duttlenheim near Strasbourg also contributed to his legendary work ethic.
The 71-year-old, who ran the club in north London for 22 years until 2018, explains how his family’s deep Catholic faith ruled almost every aspect of his founding years.
« I think the impact for me was that you are never entirely happy because you never do well enough, » he says. “Religion always makes you a little guilty because that’s the Catholic religion. ‘
Mr. Wenger, who as a child was expected to attend mass every day, said he was so desperate that he started making up sins for his weekly visit to the confessional.
« We had to confess every week, and sometimes I learned to lie because I didn’t always remember what I was doing wrong, » he says. « You came out fresh, you always felt: » Okay, I’ve now confessed. God forgive me – I can start my life again. « ’
Mr Wenger worked alongside his parents Alphonse and Louise in their La Croix d’Or bistro and described how the demands on running a restaurant put a strain on family life.
« I wouldn’t advise anyone to open a bistro and have kids. « . There was no family life at the time, ”he says. “The bistro was open every day of the year. It was closed from four in the afternoon to midnight on only one day. That was on Christmas Day because the village was dominated by religion. So it wasn’t a holiday. ‘
But working in the bistro brought him into contact with the « terrible » football team in the village who used the restaurant as their headquarters. « So maybe the meaning of my life is football because I only heard people talk about it when I was young, » he says.
His 17 trophies at Arsenal included seven FA Cup victories, and he recalls the first time on the field at Wembley in 1998, bringing back memories of his childhood on the French border with Germany.
« When I was a kid in my village we didn’t have a TV. To see a soccer game we had to go to school and watch in black and white, « he says. “We could see the soccer game, one a year. It was the FA Cup final.
« So I was a little kid, seven, eight, nine years old. Now imagine this little boy goes to Wembley and leads his team to an FA Cup final. It was something extraordinary for me that I can never forget. ‘
The former manager, considered one of the game’s deepest thinkers, says memories of long hours in his parents’ bistro are still vivid.
« I learned how to serve in a bistro – beer, cigarettes, and food, » he says. “It stayed with me because when I go to a restaurant and look at the waiters, I can tell you immediately who is good and who is not. ‘
« I relax by watching other managers suffer and thinking, » It’s your turn, my friend, « he says.
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EbeneMagazine – GB – Arsene Wenger attributes a pious religious upbringing to his success
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