Arsene Wenger reveals his take on faith, football and future
Arsenal manager reveals how the pressure of the game dominates his time, which has resulted in fewer opportunities for prayer
Pressure takes a toll on managers in different ways. For Arsene Wenger, it has meant less time for the prayers that were such a big part of his childhood.
The Arsenal manager is trying to end a trophy drought stretching back to 2005. Although the task has not shaken his religious beliefs, it has 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. "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.
"Belief is important, and I am forever grateful for the values my religion has given," he said. "And basically if you analyse it, all the religions spread good values and positive values."
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 soccer.
For some in the game, 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 the game, Wenger has tried to adopt what he calls a "socialist model" for Arsenal's wage bill.
That is harder when the need to deliver success saw Wenger break Arsenal's transfer record last month to sign Mesut Ozil for €50 million (HK$524 million)
"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."
This week one of Wenger's leading players, Jack Wilshere, expressed unease at calls for young foreign-born players to be naturalised and become eligible to play for England. For Wenger, it is a complex issue in a world where national identity has become increasingly blurred.
"I have boys who have come from Africa. Many immigrants now come to Europe, they stay four or five years in one country, then they move to another country and they have three passports," he said. "At the end of the day, I believe you are from the country where you feel the most comfortable with the culture."
Since an opening-day defeat by Aston Villa, Arsenal reeled off 10 successive victories in all competitions before drawing at West Bromwich Albion last Saturday. His side entered this two-week international break at the top of the Premier League.
There is no gloating, though, at proving wrong the fans who seemed to lose faith in him.
"It's not a personal battle," he said. "My desire is I love to win. I love to do well. I just feel I am happy if I can give some pleasure and happiness to people who love Arsenal. That is my main target. When I don't achieve that I am very disappointed."
As for the future, it is one he clearly envisages in his adopted homeland. "I can see the rest of my life in England, why not?" he said. "I am happy on the pitch."
And he shows no desire yet to leave it.