A decade before Arsene Wenger won his first major trophy with Arsenal, the Frenchman led Monaco to the league title in 1988. That success was subsequently eclipsed by his achievements in north London, but in many ways it sowed the seeds of what was to come.
Mark Hateley was signed by Wenger at the start of his first season with the principality club. He went on to play a key role in their title triumph, scoring 14 goals – the third most in the division – while developing an excellent understanding with compatriot Glenn Hoddle, who operated in the No.10 role.
In this interview, the former England international remembers his time working with Wenger at Monaco in the 1980s.
Did you know much about Wenger when you joined the club in 1987?
I didn’t know anything about Arsene Wenger. All I knew was that he was a very young manager in his early 30s. In my footballing education, I’d gone from working with Nils Liedholm – the Milan manager who was in his late 60s, a goalscorer in the World Cup final of 1958 – to a virtually unknown, untried, untested manager of an age [which meant he] could still have been playing. I went from that experience to the inexperience of Arsene Wenger.
When you’ve been dealing with a coach like the one I worked under in Milan who was very laid-back, it was completely different – but it was [the same] for all of us. Not only myself and Glenn Hoddle, but also Patrick Battiston, Jean-Luc Ettori, Luc Sonor – all international players. They would have known a little bit about his background, but his methods were revelatory, even to seasoned campaigners in the French national side.
Are there any memories or moments that stand out from that title-winning season?
I’d just joined Monaco. I was literally his first signing and Glenn Hoddle wasn’t even on the radar at that time. We’d had a couple of training [sessions] and then Wenger came to me and said “we’re looking for a No.10 to support you. Have you got any ideas?”
So I said, “What about Glenn Hoddle?”
He said, “Glenn’s signed for Paris”.
And I said, “No he hasn’t because Glenn’s agent is my agent and that hasn’t happened yet.”
So he phoned the agent up, and Glenn flew down into Paris and then onto the next plane to Monaco, talked to Wenger, signed the deal and the rest is history.
That’s how quickly it all happened. The amazing thing for me was a manager coming to a young player like myself to ask advice on players. That was the first time in my career that any manager had come to me and asked me for any sort of advice.
When Glenn arrived, Wenger sat everybody down and introduced him as our new attacking midfielder. He just said to Claude Puel and Jean-Philippe Rohr, they must do all the running and tackling and give Glenn the ball, who will come no deeper than the D on the halfway line. That was exactly how it happened.
When Arsene Wenger arrived at Arsenal in 1997, English football was notoriously parochial, with very few foreign managers. Many credit him for revolutionising the culture in this country, especially in terms of things like nutrition and discipline. Were you certain he’d be a success in England?
We never saw him on an off-day. Always in a tracksuit, always travelling around Europe to watch games and expand his knowledge of all types of football. I was shocked when he went to Japan, but there was always a plan with him for an end-game, and going to a different continent was the extreme of that. All that background work in his formative years led to what he achieved at Arsenal.
At the time I had a lot of phone calls when he arrived [at Arsenal], and I always said: “this guy will be a success”. You just had to be around him and experience his methods, and how he was always looking for the next big step in the game. On the footballing side, he was always looking to take the game forward. There wasn’t a question in my mind that he wouldn’t succeed at Arsenal.
It was really difficult for him to step away from Arsenal, but I think he’s still got a lot to offer the game of football, whether in this country or another. As we’ve already seen, he’s not afraid to jump into something that’s completely different.
How do you assess Wenger’s latter years at Arsenal? Was it natural for you to defend him?
When you’ve achieved success with a certain person, you’re always going to be an ally. You’re always going to try and defend him.
But I think it was the right time to move on. When you’re in the trenches for such a long time, you start to lose a perspective on the football club and because he was there such a long time, the game was changing around him.
He’s never had a rest. Even on his days off, it would always be football, football, football. I’m still sure that he’ll come back and do something.
Strikers have often flourished under Wenger’s management, from Thierry Henry to Nicolas Anelka to Robin Van Persie. As a striker working under him, how did he get the best out of you?
I think when you’re looking to get the best out of your forwards, you’re looking to get the most out of your attacking midfielders and wide players too. We had Luc Sonor on the left, getting forward like a wing-back does today, and Manuel Amoros on the right side who was a similar sort of player.
There was Youssouf Fofana who was one of the fastest wingers in the French league, a similar sort of player to Thierry Henry, so fast with the ball at his feet. Ramón Díaz playing alongside me gave the little-and-large combination.
His teams were always built on forward-thinking and focused on scoring goals. He had such a good way of setting up teams: great leaders at the back, a sweeper to organise, and in front workhouses like Puel and Rohr. It was just a great team to play in, with probably one of the greatest ever No.10s in Glenn, who was one of the best players I ever played with. He could put the ball on a sixpence.
After Aston Villa, Nottingham Forest and Liverpool dominated the European Cup in the late 70s and early 80s, there seemed to be a fallow period and the most technically gifted British players would move to France or Italy, such as Hoddle, Chris Waddle, Tony Cascarino and Ray Wilkins. Why was that?
European teams appreciated ball-players. In England, they were seen as lazy and not wanting to run or tackle, but great when you give them the ball. In Europe, it’s completely the other way around. You get everyone else to work hard for the technically gifted magicians.
Michel Platini used to come and watch us train and he said: “if Glenn Hoddle had been born French, he would have played 150 times for France”. That’s the difference. European football appreciated the playmaker and they were always looked after, but in Britain they also had to be a tackler and a runner. That was why Glenn was so successful when he came to France, because he had players like Puel tackling and running his socks off just to give the ball to him.
The vast majority of Wenger’s former players speak very highly of him – George Weah, now president of Liberia, recently gave him the country’s highest honour. Former Monaco players like Claude Puel, Gernot Rohr and Glenn Hoddle turned to coaching, and now we’re seeing the likes of Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry do the same. What was it about Wenger that influenced people?
He had an effect on you. You looked at the age he was, 34 or 35, and he was dealing with such big stars in that team. It didn’t faze him. He just had tremendous self-belief in his ability to deliver a team. You can’t fail to learn from that approach and the hard work.
Look at Claude Puel, who is very similar in his methods to Wenger. He’s astute, he works hard, and he’s a student of the game of football.
I had a very difficult time at Hull City, with a chairman who had come from the tennis world. Trying to implement what I saw in my Milan and Monaco days under great managers was really difficult [when you’re working with] someone who didn’t understand the footballing world. A lot of managers will say, the chairman has to trust you to be able to deliver. Wenger at Arsenal and at Monaco, those people trusted him and that’s why he was so successful.
You find out now that chairmen who try to get involved in the football world invariably end up with egg on their face for not trusting in their managers.
Do you still follow Monaco? Why do you think they continue to be so successful?
I’ve still got good friends in Monaco, and go back often. I was there for the Europa League draw with Rangers, and I’ve always been welcome to pop along. I know Prince Albert pretty well, and he’s there or thereabouts when I go back.
When you’ve won a title somewhere, you’re always welcome back. When you’ve had success, people remember that success. It’s a tiny country of 28,000 people but it’s managed to win a championship on more than one occasion. It’s great to be involved in that, and to be recognised for what you achieved.
I think that the way Monaco recruit nowadays is different, and they’ve got a great academy system of young players. I think Rony Lopes will be the next boy that comes through. Someone like [Kylian] Mbappe has been a phenomenal success at the development stage, and really that goes back to Wenger and the players he developed, like Thierry Henry, George Weah and Emmanuel Petit. It’s a phenomenal club for finding young players and coaching them the right way.