Anyway, the first time I met Arsène….
I walked into his office with my mum and dad, and Arsène said something simple like, “Welcome, Serge, how are you?” And I remember I literally couldn’t stop smiling. You know when you’re in your head like, Mate, stop smiling. Please stop smiling, this is getting embarrassing.
But I just couldn’t. My knees were light, as we say. I probably didn’t say more than 10 words the whole meeting. I was just thinking, Oh God, Arsène Wenger really knows my name.
For some reason, him saying it out loud was like, Whoa. This is real.
And I remember he was talking about the corridor. Because at the Arsenal training ground, there’s actually a hallway that separates the youth team area from the first team area. Arsène was telling me that I had to keep working hard to get to the other side, but it was kind of dope how he was saying it. It’s right there, you know? You’re crossing paths with all these players you’ve watched on TV so many times. You can see them going into their dressing room, but you haven’t earned your pass yet.
To get to the other side of the corridor, you have to work twice as hard.
And when Arsène was talking, I could see my dad’s face, like, Yeah! Facts! Tell him, Arsène! Tell my son!
I don’t know what the perfect English word is. I guess you’d say he was hype.
I was just smiling and nodding, but then my dad literally couldn’t stop himself. He said out loud, “Yes, I have been telling him, Arsène! He’s got to work harder! I’ve been telling him!”
Hahahaha. I was so embarrassed. I was thinking, Dad! What are you saying??? Just be quiet!!!!!
Being Oezil’s teammate:
One day, you’re watching Mesut Özil on TV with your mates, and he’s your idol. Then two years later, you’re having a coffee with him. You were watching him in awe, assisting Cristiano in El Clásico. And then he’s right in front of you, asking you how you’re doing. It’s surreal. It’s hard to not change, to be honest.
It’s hard to remember who you are.
About Per’s importance in his career:
I remember Per Mertesacker used to always be so hard on me, but in a really good way. He was like an older brother for me at Arsenal, and no matter how well I played, or how hard I worked, he used to say….
O.K., hang on! Because this part is not going to make sense unless you really know Per. You have to hear his voice. You have to see his face. Per is the nicest guy in the world. But he’s also the most German guy in the world. Like everything he says, it’s so intense. Like he’s so tall, and he’s looking down at you trying to be intimidating but it’s also kind of friendly. I don’t know if there’s an English word for it. Imagine like a really friendly Arnold Schwarzenegger or something.
That’s Per. And no matter what I did in training, he would come up to me afterward and start yelling, like, “Serge, remember where you come from!!!! You are from Stuttgart!!!! Humility, humility, humility!!!! Serge, you think you’re GOOD now, huh? You must be humble!!!!!! HUMILITY!!!!!”
The first five minutes, no matter what, “SERRRRRGEEEE!!!!”
Then the rest of the day, totally normal guy. The nicest guy.
Per knew how fast everything changes. You’re 15 and you’re still asking your parents for allowance money. Then you’re 17 or 18 and you’re making more money than your whole family. Imagine that. You just can’t cope with it. I remember when I broke into the first team, I started spending my money on so much unnecessary stuff. The £600 toiletry bag. The sparkly Christian Louboutins from back in the day. The Rolex.
P.S. Serge briefly talks about his loan move to West Brom.