Arsène Wenger gave a speech to the shareholders at the Annual General Meeting on Thursday, and we’ve written up a full transcript for you.
In the speech he talks about the state of the modern game, the changing fan expectations, and the importance of sticking to your traditions, among other things. Selected quotes have been widely shared on social media, but in my opinion it really is best to read them in context, so without further ado, here is the speech in full:
“Good morning everybody. Thank you for giving me the opportunity for the 21st time to speak to you. It’s an immense privilege for me. The only thing I can say: I dedicate 99% of my lifetime trying to make you happy. Looking at what happened today (the protest vote), it’s not easy, you can see that.
“But my resolution and my determination is stronger than ever, and I’d just like to share with you a little bit, because I have 21 years of observation of where our game is going, the revolution of society, the revolution of the club as well, and I think it’s important that I give you my feeling about that.
“I feel that a football club is about the past, the present and the future. What we see now, the revolution of the game, football is always ahead of society. Society always follows the way of the game, and what is for sure: In our game, the weight of the past, the weight of the future, has been kicked out. The weight of the present has become heavier and heavier, and the only thing people want. The present repeats on you, it is here and now.
“It’s acceptable, but I always guided this club with one idea, that the club is first about values, values that have been created by the past. When I look at photos of the 1930s, of the 1950s, of the 1960s, they have not always won, but have some pride, some happiness in the minds of these people, for the sense of belonging to this club. I think it’s important.
“I must say I’ve been guided all my life, here, by respecting these values. And I serve this club with integrity, total commitment, but as well with the sense that I will never betray these people that have created these values. I think you have to be proud of that (the club’s values) and not forget that this club is based around that.
“When you travel, look at our trip (to Australia and China in pre-season), Arsenal is a highly respected club. Not only because we have won the last game, or because we have lost a final, but because we represent something that is exceptional. It is that kind of tradition, of class, that is in our mind. And we have not to forget that, when we speak about our club.
“The present, for me, is about lifestyle, it’s about style of play, it’s about winning, it’s about trophies, it’s about winning every single game. Don’t think that I don’t know that, I believe that is an essential part of my job.
“But I like to believe as well that people are happy that when they come to a football game, when you come to the Emirates, they see good football. I try to respect that happiness you feel in the style of play, and as well of course winning our games.
“I believe that because of the weight of the present, the danger of the fans today…I don’t question our fans commitment, they are absolutely exceptional and I respect that for 20 years every single time I walk out there, every stadium is sold out. I have huge respect for that.
“But I believe as well the nature of the day is as soon we lose one game there is a preconceived idea in the mind of the people: ‘Ah, we are not good enough, we will not win anything.’
“I just want to ask you something, as I have been such a long time here. Be behind the team. We accept the verdict at the end of the season. But we want you to be behind us.
“There is something special in this team. I acknowledge completely that we have lost three games that we should not have lost. But I think as well there is huge potential and huge desire in the team to do well, and we have a chance.
“The future as well is important for me. We speak about the investment we made, and that is absolutely vital. We give opportunities; part of our DNA is to give a chance to young people, and we have invested a lot of money in our structures.
“I keep standing by young players. You need some strength today, because I just told you nobody forgives if you lose a game. But, to give a chance to a young player, you know you have more chances to lose a game than if you put an experienced player in. That strength is absolutely needed to prepare the future of our club, and I think I would want to continue that.
“But the modern game is as well creating, like in society, a concentration of the financial power in a very small amount of clubs. This financial power has become absolutely huge. What has it provoked? A concentration of the best world players in a very small number of clubs. It kills a little bit the unpredictability of football.
“If you look at a longer period, if I ask you ‘can Aston Villa today win the European Cup?’ certainly you will say I am joking. But it shows you a little bit there is a distance, a small number of clubs have enormous resources and can concentrate the best players in the world in their clubs.
“We are speaking here about the state of modern clubs, it’s not anymore about individual (clubs), it’s about the state. We have to find a way to structure that competition and find a way to compete with these clubs.
“Part of it, of course, is to stick to what we think is our strength traditionally: Be together, give a chance to young players, improve the quality of what we do with our young players, and continue to realise the integration of the future players in our club.
“We had a good example the other night (with Nketiah scoring two against Norwich), but it’s not enough. We need more, and better, and to find a way to compete with the better clubs.
“I would like to finish with my personal situation, because there were some concerns as well. I must tell you my hunger, my commitment, is bigger than ever. But I accept of course when you have been a long time at the club, everyone always questions that. I question myself a lot, don’t worry, to do better every single day.
“I will sit down every year with the board to see where I go from there. But I would like to assure you that my hunger to be successful with this club is absolutely huge. No matter what happens when I go, I will always love this club forever, and be a determined fan of the qualities of this club. Thank you very much, have a good day.”
Wenger signed off his speech to a round of applause, one of the biggest of the meeting, in fact.
I think it was well deserved. Whatever you think about Wenger’s methods, and whether he’s good enough to push Arsenal to the very top, it’s clear that he has an admirable vision for the football club.
Arsène doesn’t just want to win today; he wants to win today in style, with the traditions of the club intact, whilst also preparing for tomorrow. It’s a singularly ambitious vision, and for that I think you have to give him credit. Call me naïve if you want, but I genuinely believe he has Arsenal at heart.
The author of this post was in attendance at the AGM and transcribed this speech from his own recording.