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How Japan Helped Shape Arsene Wenger

Arsene Wenger is rightly regarded as having one of the greatest footballing minds of all time. His holistic approach to football completely revolutionized English football upon his arrival at Arsenal on the 22nd of September 1996.

arsene wenger statue

As the story so famously goes, Wenger arrived at a time when steak and chips followed by a trip to the local public house were part and parcel of what it meant to be a footballer in England. While it seems almost impossible to imagine that this was the norm so recently, Wenger was the first to fully enforce that this was not behaviour typical of an elite athlete in the modern age. A new approach was presented to both the Arsenal board and the Arsenal players, and the results were for all to see. 

Suddenly, the Arsenal first team were on a strict regimen consisting of vitamins, salads, ample amounts of water, stretching, and recovery sessions. Ketchup was banned at the training ground and players were instructed to ensure that they chew their food sufficiently before swallowing in order to aid the digesting process. Let’s just say that Wenger made sure that every last detail was taken care of.

As is often the case, when someone begins doing things in an alternative way and it proves to be successful, there is a rush to find out the origin of this new approach. While Wenger’s early footballing education took place in France, it is perhaps his, often overlooked, stint as manager of Nagoya Grampus Eight in the Japanese J League that had the biggest impact in terms of shaping his footballing philosophy. 

Cultural Values

Japan is a nation with strong cultural values, and it is clear that it had a large part to play in how Wenger saw the world. While harmony, order, and self-development are three of the most important values that underlie Japanese social interaction, they are intertwined with the ideas of thinking of others, doing your best, not giving up, knowing your role, respecting your elders and working in a group. It is a unique culture that intends to teach individuals how to be the best they can both in isolation and as part of a greater whole.

What is even more unique is how the culture is rich in contrast, perhaps best illustrated by its love of pachinko parlours. In terms of direct comparisons to Western arcade games, pinball would be the most similar in terms of gameplay and setup. Moreover, pachinko is now an incredibly popular game to play online all over the world. However, the reason for directly mentioning pachinko parlors in relation to Japanese culture is that it demonstrates that while it is humble by nature, it also offers up the opportunity for structured chaos. If you ever experience the atmosphere of such a pachinko parlor, you will be overcome with its ambiance instantaneously.  


At the height of Wenger’s career, he was leading Arsenal to a Premier League title without losing a single game. At the beginning of every game of this 2003/04 season, every player would embrace every other before kick-off. There was a relationship between this squad that adhered to the Japanese culture of togetherness and respect, while also allowing for the chaos that Japan’s pachinko parlor’s created. There was a backbone of defensive stability that allowed the likes of Henry, Pires, Bergkamp, and Ljungberg to flourish in the final third of the pitch.

For Wenger, Japan’s focus on honor, sincerity, tolerance, and understanding helped him to become one of the greatest football managers of all time. Today, he is FIFA‘s Chief of Global Football Development, overseeing the future of football in a direct and meaningful way. It is clear that his openness and willingness to embrace and learn from different cultures helped Wenger become the talent that he is today.

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