The Fan - Hunter Davies discovers Arsene is a Nancy boy

The latest gossip from Paris is that Arsene Wenger "feels" his players, writes <strong>Hunter Davis<

I didn't have a ticket for Arsenal-Spurs, as the half season ticket for Highbury I had for a few years has been reclaimed. I hate football-less Saturday afternoons, so I sat listening to the game on the radio while watching the rugby on television while making tea for the builders doing damp-proofing work downstairs. I always believe someone who can do three things at the same time can easily do a fourth, so the moment Arsenal went a goal up I thought, oh God, it's going to be a hammering, I know, I'll fax my friend Pierre in Paris, see if he can give me any dirt on that bastard Wenger.

Pierre Merle is a French writer who happens to share two of my interests, football and the Beatles, and has written books on each subject. Clearly a talented, intelligent, admirable person.

Mon cher Pierre, I wrote, right, that's enough French for one fax, could you please answer some questions for me? I know Wenger sounds German, presumably because he comes from Alsace-Lorraine, but what sort of first name is Arsene? Pretty poncy, if you ask me. And what do French fans think of him?

"Dear Hunter," replied Pierre, "Wenger began as what we call 'entraIneur adjoint' - second manager - in a town called Nancy, in Lorraine, in the east of France, which is where he originated. The name Arsene is not very common in France, old-fashioned, I would say, but everyone knows it in France because of Arsene Lupin, the gentleman burglar, a hero of the French novelist Maurice Leblanc (1864-1941).

"French fans like him because they remember how well he did at Monaco. They say over here that he 'feels' his players.

"By the way, I seem to remember some English press when he came to Arsenal saying 'Arsene who?' Now they have the answer . . ."

OK, Pierre, calm down. Why are French league clubs so rubbish in Europe?

"Because English clubs steal all our players, particularly you know who . . ."

What do French fans think of English players generally?

"We know Beckham and Owen and think they are good, just like Ronaldo and Zidane, but no more, no less. I think G Neville is good. We see English football as strong, spectacular, with lots of goals and lots of heads, that is, goals from headers."

Gary Neville? You taking the pissoir? I personally think the Spanish league is the best, and I'm sure most Brit fans would agree.

"I think most French fans prefer the Argentinian and Italian way of playing."

Sven and Ulrika, did their affair make the papers in France?

"In France, we make love, not gossip . . . Seriously. I've never heard of Ulrika. Who is she?"

History, history, so let's look forward. Who's going to win the Euro nations championships in 2004?

"Germany, Spain, Portugal and Netherlands. I don't think Italy, France or England will make it."

Sending faxes to Pierre took my mind off listening to Spurs, which was just as well, as they got stuffed 3-0 by Arsenal. I went down to tell the damp-proof men the score. One didn't understand, being from Kosovo, but the other cheered, so I presumed he must be an Arsenal fan. Turned out to be a West Ham fan who has always hated Spurs.

The rugby in the end was very exciting, England beating Australia, thank goodness we are good at something, and it was interesting to see a new development since I last watched a rugby game. Rugby players are now wearing gloves, fingerless ones, like tarts. So, it wasn't totally a wasted afternoon. And I now know a lot more about Arsene, who is not a bastard, the bastard.

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