The manager looked at this shaggy-haired fan, but what he saw mostly was his emotional scar. He imagined what the fresh cut must have looked like as the fan left the stadium, and how much financial prudence and consistent Champions League qualification it would take to sew it up. “Why do you care? I don’t understand.”
“What don’t you understand?” The fan could not understand what it was that the manager didn’t understand. Was this sensible man simply being faithful to his ideological calling and trying, like the others, to make a fan submit? “Don’t you understand?”
This already went beyond the manager-supporter relationship, but the manager, with the unpretentiousness that the fan had detected in him and appreciated from the first, spoke in a softer, unprofessional voice, as to an old friend.
“Listen. Surely trophies aren’t the only attraction in football. You can get awfully tired of all that. It just gets in the way of creating something beautiful.”
He said it quite sincerely, even wearily. He remembered that at the most important moment in his life he had been unable to muster beautiful football, perhaps just because of this distracting drain on his energies.
But the fan could not understand him. He, now, could not imagine being tired of such a feeling. He shook his head from side to side, and his eyes gazed blankly:
“There’s nothing else beautiful left in watching football.”
Such a conversation was not provided for in the procedures of a meet-the-players event at the training complex. Consultations to discuss the meaning of football – and with the manager of the team, at that – were not in the schedule. A slight, frail French midfielder looked in and then immediately entered, swaying as he walked in his soft shoes. Without hesitating, he went straight to the manager, right up to him, placed a match report on the desk; without addressing him by either name or title, he said:
“Look, Koscielny has a header success rate of 50%”
A light puff of his windblown black hair hovered directly in front of Arsène Wenger’s face.
Adapted from The Cancer Ward by Aleksandr I. Solzhenitzyn.