LONDON — After 22 years of meeting the English press once or twice a week, Arsene Wenger finally conducted his final pre-match news conference as Arsenal manager on Thursday.
He admitted that it was a “strange” feeling but did his best to keep the focus on his final game in charge, which comes against Huddersfield on Sunday.
“I don’t realise it’s my last press conference because I have just the Huddersfield game in mind, and try to do my job as well as I can until the last minute I’m here,” he said. “I will try to finish as well as I can and hopefully not disappoint you for your last press conference.”
He certainly didn’t disappoint, delivering a few last witty one-liners along with some more thoughtful reflections on his two decades in charge — as well as what may be yet to come in the future.
Here is how Wenger signed off with the media at London Colney:
Wenger seems at peace with the fact that his Arsenal reign is finally coming to an end. Even though there’s little doubt he would have preferred to stay on for the final year of his contract, he’s looked more relaxed than in a long time in his final few media appearances.
“I’m slowly understanding that it finishes, so I’m adapting now,” he said.
Thursday’s news conference was largely about reflecting on his legacy and the many memorable moments from the past two decades; he gave unusually long and detailed answers to questions he has often shrugged off in the past by saying he hasn’t taken time to think about it yet. It’s clear that he’s now allowing himself to reminisce a bit more about the glory days, even though there’s no sign of melancholy or bitterness about the fact that his reign is ending on a low note.
But it’s also clear that it won’t be easy to walk away from the club.
“It’s difficult because this is my life, every year,” he said. “I don’t know anything else, and that’s why it will be difficult.”
As always, Wenger came dressed in his training ground kit, which included shorts on this warm and sunny day: attire that contributed to the relaxed attitude. There were no special frills or presentations, just the normal feeling that Wenger would rather be out on the training pitch with a whistle in his hand than sitting in front of the microphones.
How he handled the media
True to style, Wenger arrived late for this news conference as he often has throughout the years. But at least he let the media sleep in a bit. With Arsenal returning late from their game at Leicester on Wednesday night, this news conference was scheduled for 12:30 p.m. instead of the usual 8:45 a.m. start. And Wenger couldn’t resist a last little dig at journalists when asked why he always insisted on those early engagements.
“First, I like that you have to get up early because I know in the press nobody likes to get up early,” he said. “So to make you suffer a little bit as well. And I know if I start early, you will not all turn up so it will be a bit easier for me.”
Wenger’s mood hasn’t always been the best at these news conferences in recent years as he was continually peppered with questions about his future. But he admitted that at least a small part of him will miss even this aspect of his job.
“Yes, because nobody will ask me anymore about things. I always told you I love football and I love the game. Every time I can talk about the game with you, I’m happy,” he said. “I didn’t enjoy many of the press conferences because it was sometimes, for different reasons, about getting my emotional response. But every time I can talk about the game and the things I love in the game, I’m happy. On that front I will miss the press conferences.”
And he left the press with one final memory as he agreed to pose for a group photo with the assembled journalists after the final questions had been asked.
On the positive reception he has been given by opposing fans since announcing he is stepping down:
“They all love me now. It is a pleasant surprise. People respect somewhere that I tried to play football in the right way and I tried to give pleasure to people. The most important thing when you wake up in the morning is to go ‘oh, I watch Arsenal today: I have a chance to see a good game.’ That is basically what I tried to do: to give people an experience in life that is not every day.
“Every day is not a pleasure. I think football has a responsibility to try to give some people a special moment in their life. You do not always manage unfortunately to do it, but at least you have to give them the hope they can see something special and can be transported somewhere that they do not always experience on a daily basis.”
Advice for his successor
Wenger has made it clear that he is staying out of the club’s search for a new manager but has promised to back the newcomer fully once he is appointed. And he had some words of advice for whoever is asked to fill his shoes:
“The advice I’d give to him is to give his best and respect the values of the club. This club is respected all over the world and I would just like him to bring his own ideas. It will be a different speech, a different way to see the game. It’s a chance for the players to see something different.
“On the other hand, I’d say to respect what has been built here and what people care about as well. You have seen on Sunday [against Burnley], when you speak about the goodbye I had with the fans, is that some of the fans don’t always agree with my decisions but I think they respected one thing: that I was honest, loyal and committed to the values of the club and to give my best for the club. They wanted to tell me ‘we agree with you on that’ and I would like my successor to do that as well.”
Plans for the future
Wenger has no plans to retire and is intent on taking a job elsewhere, possibly as soon as next season. But aside from saying he won’t take over another English club, he insists he hasn’t thought about where he’ll go next.
In fact, he hasn’t even booked a holiday yet.
“I have some work to do in France on Monday and Tuesday and after I will come back on Thursday and clear my office and that will be it. After that, I don’t know,” he said.
Verdict out of 10
7/10 — This wasn’t Wenger at his wittiest and none of his quotes will make the top 10 list of his most memorable. And there’s a slight sense that this drawn-out farewell, which has already lasted a couple of weeks, has led to a sense of Wenger-fatigue either. But it was a dignified and classy way of signing off and yet another reminder that his personality and charm will be sorely missed — not least by those who covered him.
Mattias is ESPN FC’s Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.