‘My Life in Red and White’ by Arsène Wenger (2020)

I rarely bother to post negative reviews. If I don’t like a book I generally don’t finish it or take the time to order my thoughts. I’m making an exception this time because of just how disappointed I was by the recent autobiography of former Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger.

Wenger is widely considered one of the most intelligent and thoughtful figures in football. A trained economist, developer of young talent and winner of multiple premiership titles, he presented an intellectual image that was unique to English football. A proper insight into his life, his thought process and his view of football would make a great book. This is not that book.

Picking up the hardcopy, I expected a 300 plus page deep dive into Wenger’s life and career. However, the first thing you notice is the comically large font and ridiculous margin which probably doubled the number of pages that were actually needed for the book. It also didn’t help that the last 60+ pages of the book are a series of charts and tables with a ridiculous amount of statistical detail of Wenger’s career.

So to the book itself. One major error of this type of book was avoided – it largely eschews an over-detailed game-by-game season by season narrative. Unfortunately however, it also failed to include much of substance at all. While Wenger’s childhood is covered an appropriate surface level, his playing career remains fuzzy and unclear – you have to check the chart at the back to realise he played less than 100 games throughout his career.

But we are all buying this book for his management career so surely there’s loads of detail there? Sadly, the chapters on his time at Monaco, in Japan and mostly Arsenal stay at a very surface level. He alludes to a dark time in French football as part of reason for leaving but gives no detail at all on the scandals engulfing the French and European game at the time.

Major players in Wenger’s teams get a few paragraphs but we gain no insight into who those players are, what Wenger’s relationships with them were like, why they were pivotal players. No idea if he liked them, how he developed them, why he sold them. At one point laziness kicks in and he just gives a bullet-point list of some key players and a one line description of them.

We learn bits and pieces about his views on the phycological side of the game but there is no coherent attempt to explain Wenger’s philosophy of the game. No comments on his love of youth development, no mention at all of tactics.

Of the entire book, only the first chapter felt like it was genuinely written by Wenger. The last few chapters are basically a FIFA press release for his new job.

The book is a real missed opportunity, a deeply disappointing effort and its hard not to see it as a cynical cash-in.

The most disappointing book of 2020

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