On-pitch passion shouldn’t be taken as abuse: Wenger
With all that John Terry is alleged to have said, a harsh response from Arsene Wenger was expected yesterday.
Wenger, one of the game's great purists and moralists, takes his Arsenal team to Chelsea this afternoon. His pre-match press conference gave him a perfect platform to denounce the accused, to rail against racism, to ensure headlines that would discomfit Chelsea's captain.
But Wenger baulked. Of course, he condemned racism as “stupid”. Of course, he said that if guilty Terry “should be punished”. And of course, he refused to comment on specifics: “I don't know what happened. I didn't even see the game.”
What was surprising, though, was Wenger's passionate and nuanced argument that things are often said “in a passionate situation inside the game” which may be unpleasant but which should not be exhaustively analysed or read as insights into character.
“How much credit can you give to something that is said on the pitch in a passionate situation?,” Wenger asked.
“How deep do you read?” He suggested, with a rather more trivial example than the one currently in the news, that insults on the football pitch are “reflexes” rather than considered speech.
“If you have played football, you have said something to your friends sometimes that you are an idiot — but you do not really think that he's an idiot.”
Wenger is sometimes framed as being rather austere and scientific; distant from and slightly contemptuous of the cruder, sub-cultural elements of the English game.
His conduct on the touch-line, though, has always suggested a manager no less emotional than any other.
Yesterday he admitted when asked that he has said things he regretted while hot-blooded over the game. “Of course I have, it's linked, it's passionate.”
Accepting that football can often induce unpleasantness, Wenger suggested that players not be held to too high a standard of politeness: “I feel sometimes what's happening on the pitch is not always politically correct.”
Rather than focussing on racism specifically, Wenger believes that there needs to be a concerted fight against all forms of abuse at football. He is a particular victim of some unpleasant abuse, while racism is another part of the whole.
“It's the same as racism, for me it's racism anyway,” Wenger said of some of the chanting directed at him.
“There is an issue of all kinds of abuse. I worked for 15 years in England and I have been abused how many times? And that doesn't shock anybody.
“And the media has a part to play as well. It is not only about racism. Any abuse. And what is done on the football against abuse? Nothing.
“I would like to see people sitting on the seat for one day and hear what people chant. And you know it's completely wrong.”