LONDON, January 10 – Arsène Wenger used to sell cigarettes in his younger days.
The confession came as he elaborated on how smoking has changed from being commonplace to peripheral – and how perceptions of its effects have altered, particularly in the world of sport.
With much of his childhood spent in the village bar run by his parents in Alsace, Wenger’s environment was clouded by tobacco fog.
“I grew up in a pub you did not see from here to the window because of the smoke and I spent my youth selling cigarettes,” he said.
“But times have changed. Society has had an evolution. This is one of the posititves today that people don’t smoke any more. You cannot smoke in public spaces, that means people who are not smokers don’t suffer.”
If there was outrage at Wojciech Szczesny lighting up in the aftermath of an error-ridden performance against Southampton, Wenger did not really share it.
He knows it would be hypocritical to be too judgmental as an ex-smoker himself.
“The other day I was on French television, they showed me on the bench smoking a cigarette. I didn’t even think it was me! At that time, I remember Lippi at Juventus smoked a cigar during the whole game in every game. Imagine the guy sitting next to him?”
-Was it down to stress? “Of course.”-
Wenger generally reacted to Szczesny’s smoke-gate controversy with more of a light waft than a deep inhale.
Without wishing to trivialise it, and always happy to extol the benefits of healthy living, that he treated it with good humour suggests there is no long-term damage in terms of the manager’s regard for his goalkeeper.
Recent errors on the pitch are of more pressing concern than a post-match puff.
There is the option of playing David Ospina against Stoke, although Wenger is taking into account whether opponents known for their aerial strength are the best choice to give someone their Premier League debut.
Wenger gave nothing away as to whether he will select Szczesny or Ospina, musing, “You consider everything before a game and you just want to make the right decision knowing that if you don’t win the game it was the wrong one.”