It had, thought Arsène Wenger to himself, been a wonderful day.
He kicked his shoes off onto the carpet. Then, with a sly grin and a quick check to make sure the door was closed, he swung his socked feet up onto his desk and, for the first time in years, relaxed. He closed his eyes. He fumbled in his jacket pocket, removed a cigar case, unscrewed the top and withdrew eight plump inches of Havana’s finest. He popped it into his mouth.
He opened his eyes again. He didn’t know where his lighter was.
Rummaging around on his desk, he took a moment to look through the congratulatory
messages that had started pouring in after the final whistle. Alan Shearer (“It went in! It was a goal!”), Robin van Persie (“Boss, you were right all along …”), and – ah, yes. One from Pope Francis “Congratulations on a very fine victory. If I wasn’t already devoted to one inscrutable, all-powerful overlord …”
His phone rang. He frowned. He’d given strict instructions that he wasn’t to be disturbed. Unless …
“Is it José?”
On the other end of the line, his PA stammered. “Uh, no. No. Sorry. But … I think you’ll probably want to take it.”
Arsène squashed his irritation. This was a day of celebration. Of course people would want to share in his joy. “Very well. Put them through …
“Hello? Hillary! Why … No, no, thank you … Yes it was … I know! They could ask any question they want, and they ask about handshakes … Yes … Absolutely … I’ll be sure to pass that on … Yes, he really does think he’s best played as a striker … Cheeky. You know I couldn’t tell you, even if we had signed him … Did you get my email? No? Weird … Okay. You take care. Best of luck with the primary … Thanks. Bye. Bye now.”
He eventually found the lighter in the second drawer down, filed neatly next to the cutter. He took them both out, blew off the dust, and snipped the end off the cigar. He flicked on the flame, and as curls of smoke filled the room he savored the taste. The taste, at long last, of victory.
The phone rang again.
“Is it José?”
“No, sir. It’s Alex.”
“Ah, right. Good. Good. Yes, put him through … Hi Alex! Pardon? … Oh, right, thanks, just not used to the accent anymore … Yeah, it’s a huge relief … No, I know they never did this for you … Yes, I know you just got the shield … Well, maybe you just didn’t win it convincingly enough.”
Arsène shook his head sadly.
“No! Alex, we are friends! … How can you think I’ve been setting you up with these last 10 years just to deny you this pleasure. It was nothing of the sort! … Oh, I can’t talk to you when you’re like this … Have you been reading Roy’s book again?”
The line cut off. Arsène chuckled softly to himself. Not even the moods of Alex Ferguson could darken his spirits. He took another draw on his cigar, rolled the smoke around his mouth, and the phone rang. Again.
“Is it José?”
“Ah … yes, sir.”
He sat bolt upright.
“Put him through.”
There was a click, and then a pause. He placed his cigar into the ashtray.
“Hello, José,” he said. He tried to keep the smile from his voice. He failed.
“Thank you … Yes, that’s right … Oh no, I understand entirely … Look, it’s just a handshake, right … Exactly … No, no he’s not for sale … Look, I just want to say that I appreciate this … No, it must be difficult for you … Okay … Yes, even though it’s only just August! I know!”
Arsène nodded vigorously. “You’re right, it’s the only sensible thing to do, and I’m just glad Scudamore saw sense … So, er, any plans for the next month or so … Oh really? It’s a lovely part of the world … Okay … You take care too … Bye now.”
He hung the phone up, waited for a second, then his mouth cracked into a grin wider than any grin he’d ever grinned before. A tingle of pleasure ran through his body, from his hair down to his shoeless feet, and he shuddered. He clapped his hands together: one, twice. The room seemed brighter, somehow. Had the sun just come out from behind a cloud?
He relit his cigar and put his feet back on the desk. The open top bus parade was leaving in the morning. The Premier League trophy gleamed in the corner. The world was right again.
He blew himself a smoke ring. He smiled.