Arsène Wenger recently told us about how much he is looking forward to returning to Japan on this summer's Arsenal Tour. Press the play button above to watch our FREE interview, while below is a full transcript.
Arsène, I wanted to ask you about your time in Japan. Arsenal are going back there in the summer. How much did you enjoy it, as much as a human being as a football man?
I enjoyed it because it was a completely different culture. I've worked with people who were extremely respectful, who always wanted to put me in good conditions to do my job. It was the beginning of an era for Japan because they had just created professional football three years before. It was in a very important period and it was important that people coming from Europe worked seriously. I must say that it was a human experience as well as a football experience because you are still isolated because you are far away from European culture. Sometimes you feel lonely but it's a good test for the passion you have for the game. It was a great experience as well because people have such a desire to do well that you feel you have to absolutely always give the maximum to please these people.
It was the beginning of an era for Japan because they had just created professional football three years before. It was in a very important period and it was important that people coming from Europe worked seriously
Everyone talks about what you gave to Japanese football, but what did Japanese football give to you and what have you employed at Arsenal?
Us in Europe, without knowing, have a football culture because your grandfather speaks to you, your father speaks to you about football when you are two or three years old. You slowly get that culture through your childhood. You play in the street. I had to make a big effort to think about how I can get basic things to them, to simplify what I think about the game and simplify important exercises in training. [I had] to think about how you can give things across to people. I had to make a good effort to think about my own training methods and discovered some problems that looked normal for us. Therefore it was very interesting.
Everyone talks about the dietary factor, that you brought a Japanese diet to Arsenal. Is that true, and if so how true?
I was already much involved in that before I went to Japan. In Japan you discover that the food is very healthy because when I was there, it was a population that had the highest life expectancy in the world. They did smoke a lot and they quite like a drink as well, like we like it here in Europe and in England. That's where you realise that the diet was very important. It's all about veg and fish. I was quite amazed by the quality of the food because I expected to suffer a little bit on the food front when I went to Japan because I thought that the food was so different that after a while you will get bored, but not at all. You can find all sorts of food with top quality. I was always thinking that food is like the petrol you put in a car. If you don't put the right one in your car, it doesn't work as well as it would with the right petrol. In Japan you discover that as well.
Perhaps in English football, we needed better petrol at the time!
That has changed in England. You have to give credit for that. In that last 15 years the effort they have put in to inform pople and improve the diet has been absolutely tremendous. Huge progress has been made and today it is the same as anywhere else.
I had to hide the balls before training and say to the kit man don’t give them to the players because when training started they were already tired because they had practised so much on the pitch!
The J-League is 20 years old now - so what are the three things that stand out from your time in the league?
What stands out for me is, for such a short period of experience, the quality of the organisation in the league. I moved there in 95 and it was created in 93. For only the third year, the quality of the organisation was something that stood out to me.
Secondly the huge, unbelievable desire and hunger for training from the Japanese player. When I arrived in the morning they were already on the pitch and training started one and a half hours later. I had to hide the balls before training and say to the kit man don’t give them to the players because when training started they were already tired because they had practised so much on the pitch!
The third thing that was very interesting for me was that, when I arrived, you could not draw. You could only win or lose so each game was decided on penalties after extra time. You could never get away with a draw if you had a bad patch!
Another thing that was interesting is that to promote football you played 20 per cent of your home games in a neutral city. That was quite amazing and interesting. It was a home game but it could be 200 miles away from your city just to make an advertisement for professional football, just to show what it is. They pushed that through and it was very interesting.
So was it a case that more than just working for trophies and competing, you were working for football?
Yes, for football. For example, you could play as Arsenal at home but you would actually be playing in Coventry as part of your home games! It was just to promote the game.