Footballistically speaking: Wenger’s addiction

I am addicted to mornings.

It’s the time of day when the earth is just still. Or at the most, barely moving, sort of just stirring. You can hear the wind over the sound of humans.

Every morning I take my dog for a walk through my neighborhood and out to my local pond. Most mornings I don’t see another soul. I do see woodpeckers, crows, ducks, and squirrels. Every squirrel is a big event for Pork Chop and every day she remembers exactly where she saw every squirrel she’s ever seen and we have to stop for a second while she looks for the squirrel again. Some chemical is released in her brain, something powerful, that marks each spot and as we near each spot, I think that same chemical is released again: she gets excited, ready for the hunt.

On these quiet morning walks I don’t hear Harleys farting out their loathsome exhaust – the mating call of the middle-class white male. I do hear bushtits peeping as they flit among the trees and hummingbirds screeching at me when I get too close to their nests.

This morning there was a great black and blue Steller’s Jay, male, with his mohawk bristling, a ripe hazelnut in his beak. He stared at me, I could see his little brown eye, I called to Pork Chop to stop and look at the Jay. She just looked at me. A bullfrog croaked. He flew off to his nest to bring the morsel to his beloved.

There were a lot of people today. A couple that were walking and listening to Mexican music on their phone. An older man and his little dog. A lady who was sitting on a bench. And a woman ran past me, she was playing Wham! “Wake me up (before you go go)”. She was athletic, her pants said “fierce” on the back. She said good morning to me and I swear I could hear the endorphins in her voice, she sounded so happy. They all said good morning. It’s what we do on our morning walks. We are just human to each other.

There’s always the end of the walk though. I walk back through my neighborhood. There’s the man who sleeps rough every night. He sleeps sitting up on a park bench, presumably so that if the cops come and ask him to leave, he can just say he accidentally fell asleep.

And there are the car campers. Everywhere in my town we have car campers now. There’s a UHAUL storage facility next to my house and in that parking lot there are always 20+ dilapidated cars with people sleeping in them. A combination of rising housing prices – my assessed value came in the mail yesterday, my property value went up 32% in one year – thanks to the trickle-down effect of Amazon and the tech boom in Seattle and a heroin/Oxy epidemic that’s hitting hard in the States is causing havoc.

Everywhere I go now there are young people, their arms scabby, asking for money. Two days ago, I saw a young woman passed out on the street. Yesterday a junkie on the nod, doing that amazing thing they do where they are somehow simultaneously falling over and standing up. He was holding a sign asking for money.

I have no hatred for people who have become addicted to heroin or meth, I have an addictive personality. I smoked cigarettes my entire life and I’m an alcoholic, I don’t hate them. I don’t hate myself. I have deep empathy for what they are going through.

I wonder if we aren’t all addicts. My ex didn’t like me drinking. She was right. Me and drinking is like Mario Balotelli and fireworks in a bathroom: stupid, explosive, and sooner or later someone is going to get hurt.

I used alcohol to obliviate my problems but to paraphrase King Buzzo of the Melvins: there isn’t a single problem in the world that can’t be made worse with a fifth of whiskey. If Whiskey solved any problems, they’d market it as “problem solving whiskey.” I have been learning to face my problems head on, or at least at some kind of oblique angle rather than searching for the solution in my dreams.

She was an addict too. Instagram. Sugar. Basically, if you’re hiding something, canceling plans to do this thing that you have to hide, you might want to talk to someone. Or maybe not. Maybe I’m wrong. It’s happened before.

But now instead of booze, I’m addicted to Twitter. I try to get up every morning at 0430 and lately I have been rolling over, grabbing the phone, and turning on twitter. I need those little red dots that tell me I got a mention. Imagine that: a 47 year old man whose brain is paying out in chemicals for little red dots.

These things are just different delivery systems for four drugs that your brains produce: serotonin, endorphins,  oxytocin and dopamine. Those are the four drugs that rule you. Maybe not you, because you’re special, but they rule me.

Even Arsene Wenger is an addict. He said so himself in an incredible and wide-ranging interview with RTL. A lot of people joke around about Wenger being a football addict but seen from a slightly different perspective, it’s actually not funny at all. He is an addict and like any addict there have been negative consequences, regrets.

“Yes.” he said when asked about his love of watching football “No furniture at home just videos. I did my genotype exam and they told me I had the addictive gene. I just used it entirely in my professional life, it could have been used on something less beneficial for me.”

Addicts will always tell you what they are addicted to and he mentions in an offhand way, when talking about whether he would ever manage the French national team that he doesn’t really want to, because they don’t play often enough. “My drug is the next match, so…” he trails off. He could win the World Cup with this national side but listen to what he says, that’s not what he wants. Ten games a year isn’t enough, he needs 50. He wants more hits.

Wenger also seems like he is at a crossroads. Cut loose from Arsenal, which he said he regretted staying too long, he is mulling over his prospects. But I don’t know if he’s ready to dive back into the world of football management. He expresses a deep regret for the harm that his addiction caused others, especially his family.

“I regret having sacrificed everything I did because I realise I’ve hurt a lot of people around me. I’ve neglected a lot of people. I’ve neglected my family, I’ve neglected many close ones. Deep down though, the obsessed man is selfish in his pursuit of what he loves. He ignores a lot of other things. But it’s a bone to chase at the same time.”

His addiction harmed himself and the others around him, the people he loves, his wife, his daughter. And ultimately that is the problem with addiction. It’s selfish. If love is selflessness and addiction is selfishness it seems like it’s awfully hard for an addict to actually love.

But still, Wenger’s addiction is complicated. It gave us the Invincibles but it also held on too long at the end and gave us last season’s team. He wasn’t a drunk, smashing his way through life like a car with no driver, he was very deliberate and conscious about his addiction. He channeled it into making something extraordinary. Something that is so beautiful it will probably never be bested.

There’s a phrase that drunks sometimes utter “you owe yourself a drink”. They say it if they do something they feel deserves a reward. Drinking is the reward for doing your job. Drinking is the reward for not drinking. Whatever excuse, drinking is the reward.

Wenger hung on to Arsenal too long. When asked what his biggest ever mistake was he admits, “perhaps staying at the same club for 22 years.” I wonder if toward the end there he felt he “owed himself” the gift of those last 5 years at Arsenal. I don’t begrudge him his tipple at the end. I completely understand it.

Wenger is an extraordinary man. Few people are as introspective and honest as he is and even fewer people can channel their demons into making football into art the way that he did. For that and so much more, I will always love Arsene Wenger and wish him the best going forward.

Merci, Arsene.


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