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Arsene Wenger: A Profile

SATURDAY 20th September 2003

AC Milan rejected him for looking too much like a schoolmaster, and distrustful players tagged him "Clouseau" on his first day in England. But in the six years since he became Arsenal's mystery manager, Arsene Wenger has been credited with transforming British football in general, and the Gunners' fortunes in particular.

Foreign first

The first foreign coach to achieve the historic double of FA Cup and championship trophy, Wenger was never the most talented sportsman himself. In his hometown of Strasbourg, he turned out for a number of amateur sides, but mostly applied himself to his education.

Armed with a Masters in Economics, however, Wenger took his intellect back onto the pitch. He coached a local junior squad, before moving to Cannes, then Nancy.

As Monaco's manager from 1987, Wenger parked his battered Renault beside the Porsches of his superstar players, but championship victory there raised his price.

Although English clubs were hearing the constant patter of continental feet, Wenger was then an unknown. But Arsenal's vice-chairman David Dein had faith in the Frenchman and, after 10 years of persuasion, finally luräed him from Japan to Highbury in 1996.

Fresh approach

There, Wenger's skills with strategy, players' diets, fitness and injury prevention, have played a massive part in Arsenal's return to form. He led the team to the double in his first 18 months and repeated the feat four years later.

This season brings fresh challenges. Wenger's old rival Alex Ferguson continues to growl from the north while, across London, rival club Chelsea enjoy a freshly deepened pocket. Meanwhile, Arsenal is more than £40m in debt, desperate for a new stadium to pull in the crowds, and for their manager to pull out the stops.

After four wins in four matches, he says only, "There is a long way to go, but it is good for confidence and belief."

Arsene Wenger may be fluent in five languages, but is a man of few words, and "no other hobbies". Although he remains calm under pressure, his passion for the pitch is legendary, what his friend Gerard Houllier calls his ability to "eat, talk, sleep and drink football, and then come back for more".