Meet the other Wenger – Arsene’s brother reveals the Arsenal manager’s untold story

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BY: Jeremy Wilson, Deputy Football Correspondent

 

Guy Wenger is 71 and now retired from the family car parts business that he ran in Alsace for 42 years. His younger brother, Arsène, is 66 and will on Saturday reach the unprecedented milestone of 20 years as Arsenal manager, but you do not need long in Guy’s company to sense that the passage of time has not blunted their competitive sibling instincts.

“Arsène?” says Guy, smiling, as he ushers me into his house in the Wenger family’s home village of Duttlenheim. “I taught him everything he knows!” Who was the better player? “Ask him,” he says. “Ask him about my technique. I say nothing.” The inference is clear. Big brother is still the boss and, while his affection and pride in Arsène is obvious, it will not be easily displayed.

Guy then points up the road in the direction of the once family-run bistro, La Croix d’Or, and tells me that was where it really all started for Arsène. “We played in the courtyard – just the two of us,” he says. “Arsène was five or six when we started. He was a goalkeeper. We were always together but, if we played football, we would really get into each other.” Guy claps his hands together to demonstrate. “We were street footballers,” he says. “That is where Arsene learnt. Street football. That is still his philosophy today. We would also play on the crossroads outside our pub. There were only 10 carts passing a day, now there are 7,000 cars.”

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Arsene Wenger (back centre) playing for FC Duttlenheim in 1966-67 Credit: MAGALI DELPORTE

At just over 6ft, Guy is a similarly imposing physical presence although a little shorter than his famous brother. His face is slightly rounder but, beneath the glasses, the resemblance is still striking. He is also clearly very sporty – he is wearing an Adidas tracksuit and slippers – but then pats a very slightly protruding stomach and admits that Arsène tells him he needs to lose it. Guy is also multilingual but, in his brother’s company, they speak in the old Alsace dialect. “No one else can understand us then,” he says. “We both always loved sport and the outdoors. I played national level basketball and also football in the village until I was 45. At 16, I could high-jump 1.80 metres into the sand. I cycle every morning and, whenever Arsène is back, we still run together in the forest.”

Arsène’s commitment to Arsenal makes those visits fleeting but he was last here in May to open a football pitch that has been named after him in the neighbouring Duppigheim village. He will also be back briefly later in the year for a family gathering. The Wenger clan is numerous both in Alsace and the Drôme Valley and such occasions can involve as many as 300 guests. “We wear name-tags,” says Guy, who speaks with Arsène after almost every Arsenal game. He also makes relatively frequent visits to north London.

“People thought he and [Sir Alex] Ferguson hated each other,” he says. “Rubbish. I was with them. I think it was the last time Ferguson was at Arsenal with Manchester United. We drank two bottles of Bordeaux after the game.”

This is the first time that Guy has spoken with a British journalist during Arsène’s two decades at Arsenal. He says that there have been requests before and, when we first telephoned to explain that we would like to learn more about the village and their childhood, he said that he would speak to Arsène and we should call back at 4pm. When we do, after a day spent visiting the landmarks of Arsène’s youth, including lunch in the small courtyard of the Croix d’Or (now renamed La Baita) where they would play, Guy already has all the family photos out on his dining room table. It is a tableau of a family that looks quintessentially Alsace, and yet its most celebrated member could not be more cosmopolitan in his outlook.

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The Wenger family’s home village of Duttlenheim Credit: MAGALI DELPORTE

Significantly, it was a region that became occupied during the Second World War and their father, Alphonse, was among 100,000 local men known as the Malgré-nous (against our will) who were forced into the German army. The alternative was to have their families taken to the concentration camp in Schirmeck. “His father came back from the war and weighed 40kg – they didn’t think he would recover,” says Joel Muller, a childhood friend who succeeded Guy as the president of FC Duttlenheim. “Our parents didn’t run from anything. Arsène has the values of the region; the values of the earth. Honest, generous, welcoming. He knows where he is from. When someone is his friend, he is a friend for life.”

Guy says that there were Americans still living in their neighbouring barn when he was born at the end of the war and he can recall shaking Charles de Gaulle’s hand when he passed the family bistro some years later. It was, and remains, a huge footballing area and the Wenger family have been deeply involved with FC Duttlenheim since the club’s inception in 1923. Their father was president, three of their uncles played in the team and the headquarters of the football club was the Croix d’Or.

“I was spotted by other clubs but did not have the right to leave the club when I was younger because our restaurant was the headquarters – my father did not want me to go,” says Guy. Their mother, Louise, ran the pub while Alphonse had the car parts business in Strasbourg called Comptoir Alsacien which was taken on by Guy and still exists. Despite the name change, the Croix d’Or is architecturally untouched and, with its bar, stone walls, tiled flooring and little side room, it remains easy to picture how it would become the alcohol and smoke-filled scene for football talk.

 The once family-run bistro, La Croix d’Or Credit: MAGALI DELPORTE
The once family-run bistro, La Croix d’Or Credit: MAGALI DELPORTE

Arsène was 13 when the family later moved a few doors down the road and both brothers regard the experience of growing up in a football pub as formative. “We would both listen to the conversations,” says Guy. “There was no clubhouse or shower. The players would all wash in the basin in the courtyard and get changed in the restaurant. If you were the last, the water would be dirty. I can remember going to wash in the river instead when it was snowing.”

Muller would also sit with the young brothers in the bar. “Arsène was always listening – he was interested in psychology and people,” he says. “I remember a group of friends going to Cameroon when he was 25. When they returned, he did not say, ‘How was your holiday?’ He asked, ‘How do the people in Cameroon live?’ That was what interested him.”

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The cadet team from 1963. Arsene Wenger’s father is standing on the left and Arsene is the fifth boy standing from the left Credit: MAGALI DELPORTE

They also played other sports, especially basketball, and would ride their bikes to the surrounding villages, especially Obernai or the nearby Lac Achard to swim. The only television in Duttlenheim was at the school and, every Saturday at 6pm, Arsène would watch the highlights of German Bundesliga games. Their parents, says Guy, would work 12-15 hours a day while Arsène, who says he will always be “a peasant”, rode horses and worked in the fields of the farm opposite. He was also studious and, by 16, top in his class at both philosophy and maths.

Yet did Guy ever imagine all these characteristics coming together into the job of football manager? “No,” he says. “I was surprised, amazed, he has managed to build all this at Arsenal.” And what has kept Arsène going for 20 years? Guy lets out a gasp. “It’s too long,” he says, shaking his head. “But he does not want to stop.” What might he do when he finishes? “I don’t know,” he says. “Maybe Racing [Strasbourg]. I think we both carry that club in our hearts.”

You sense that Guy has been thinking all this for years and, like the man himself, actually remains captivated by the ride. He watches every Arsenal match either in person or at home. The magnificent new clubhouse at FC Duttlenheim, which Guy helped to get built, also shows each Arsenal game.

“I get nervous watching,” says Guy. Yet his eyes then light up upon being asked for his favourite current Arsenal player. “Mesut Özil,” he says. “Super, super. He sees everything.”

 Guy Wenger talking with the Telegraph's Jeremy Wilson Credit: MAGALI DELPORTE
Guy Wenger talking with the Telegraph’s Jeremy Wilson Credit: MAGALI DELPORTE

Guy was also present at most of Arsenal’s great moments in the past two decades. His favourite? “The first double in 1998,” he says. “All the families were on the bus and there were thousands and thousands of people on the streets. They were drunk, on roofs; they nearly overturned the bus. We went to Highbury Town Hall and then ate breakfast at Highbury. It was fantastic.

“The most disappointing was 2006 in the Champions League final against Barcelona. I organised a bus. All the family was there. Jens Lehmann got sent off and Thierry Henry missed two goals. We could have won it.” Indeed, it is striking when meeting Wenger’s friends just how many cite the Champions League as his one remaining dream. “We are very, very proud; but a bit sad sometimes,” says Muller. “We would like them to win the Champions League.”

 Arsene Wenger with the Premier League trophy Credit: ALLSPORT
Arsene Wenger with the Premier League trophy Credit: ALLSPORT

Muller then reveals that, whenever friends visit Wenger in London, he always urges them to bring sausages from the region. Arsène’s favourite, says Guy, is the Knack-Alsace.

 

culled:TELEGRAPH.CO.UK