Shades of The Geeta Philosophy in Wenger’s Thinking

Wenger’s pre-match press conference before the Everton game was quite humorous and interesting. Le Boss spoke on many topics and seemed to be in a jovial mood. Amidst the usual pre-match talk of injuries, signings, and the ceaseless Spanish Inquisition, a journalist asked Wenger how he is going to judge the season at the end.

Part of Arsene’s reply was

… at the end of the day I believe you can be proud of your season when you come out and say we have gone as far as we could, we have given absolutely everything. And this team, since the start of the season, promised that we will give everything in every single game and at the moment they are achieving it. If that is respected, you can always come out of a season with pride.

Now, I am not a spiritual or religious person but there is a verse from the Bhagvad Geeta that has stayed with me since the time I first read it when I was still in school. This is probably the most famous and some might say the most abused verse from the Geeta.

कर्मणये वाधिकारस्ते मां फलेषु कदाचन ।

मां कर्मफलहेतुर्भू: मांते संङगोस्त्वकर्मणि ।।


The English transliteration could be,

Karmanye Vaadhikaraste, Maa Phaleshu Kadachana;
Maa karma-phala-hetur-bhooh, Ma Te sangostwakarmani.

Since the Bhagvad Geeta is one of the most profound, philosophical classics of the world, this verse has many interpretations. And given the depth and complexity of Sanskrit even direct translations are many in number. I was a little disappointed with the initial results of my google search for an explanation and translation but we can use the following as a rough literal translation.

Your right is to work only,
But never to its fruits;
Let not the fruits of action be thy motive,
Nor let thy attachment be to inaction.

On the face of it, this might be something that would not make sense to a lot of people, especially if you are not already acquainted with the philosophy of the Geeta. Our modern world is extremely result oriented and talk of work without any right to reward is not easy to digest. I would love to indulge in a detailed philosophical discussion here but that is not the purpose of this article so I won’t go in depth.

To explain it in simple terms, this verse emphasizes on the importance of detachment while highlighting the need to perform ones duty/work. As per my understanding, the most a man can do is to perform his duty to the best of his ability. Life is complex and there are many factors at work beyond the control of man and hence it is very likely that we will not get the desired results of our labor. In such a situation if we are motivated only by results there is a strong likelihood that we will be disheartened and lose interest.

The verse advises man to work for the sake of work and not for the sake of results. In such a situation, if the results don’t go our way, we can still carry on with what we are doing with the knowledge that it is work that is important and not the results.

If we think from the point of view of Arsene Wenger, the best he can do is to work hard every day, take decisions based on his knowledge and understanding and be loyal to his principles that have taken him this far. During the season if someone else performs better, if we face unfortunate injuries, the referees get some key decisions wrong, or any external factor beyond our control influences the year end results, he can still be proud of the work done during the year.

Similarly, some players might score some goals, get some assists and rake up good tangible statistics. Others might pick up a serious injury and be out for a long time. Some might struggle on their come back. It is impossible to judge all of them on the same parameters of the limited, measurable statistics that we have. At the end of the day, the player has to ask himself if he did everything within his powers to perform his duties.

Arsene hit the nail on the head in the last line – “if that is respected…” We live in a world where thousands of people are ready to pass a verdict on every decision and after every game. Managers become incompetent fools after a few bad games and they become heroes with magical powers after a short run of positive results. In other words, respect for the person and his work is lost, acknowledgment of the circumstances at work is missing and everything is simplified to the point of meaninglessness.

I have often wondered how Wenger manages to remain so loyal to his principles in the face of constant, stinging criticism. For a lesser man, self-doubt would creep in and it would be impossible to continue working at such a high level without compromise. Courage of conviction is only seen when the foundation of one’s beliefs is very strong. Arsene has, with these comments, demonstrated that his clarity of thought and philosophical insights about life are just as good as his footballing intelligence.

17 Responses to Shades of The Geeta Philosophy in Wenger’s Thinking

  1. Jibran Naseer says:


  2. Nischit says:

    Excellent interpretation of his comments and the verse. For someone who hadn’t read the geeta for so long, your interpretation was spot on. I’m just curious to know if that was the only verse you remember or the only verse that you remember that applies to the context. I’ve always wondered if Arsene Wenger has read the geeta( or any other philosophical text) when I listen to him talk.

    • desigunner says:

      Thanks Nischit.

      This verse popped into my head when I was listening to the press conference and Arsene said those words. It was quite spontaneous. I guess this is the only one I know that applies to this context.

      Wenger is a knowledgeable man and must have done his share of reading. I tend to believe that Geeta does not really preach but gives an extremely insightful and logical summary of an approach to life. Consequently, people who think a lot about life can end up with similar conclusions of their own even if they haven’t read it. Of course, hardly anyone will get everything and it wont be an exact match but it’s quite possible to get the general drift.

  3. Gareth says:

    Great read. It’s interesting to see things from a different viewpoint to that which is instilled within your own culture. Keep up the good work 🙂

  4. ryan says:

    thanks for the clever article. i don’t recall the last time i saw someone write such a clever and nice article. thanks for your time!

    • desigunner says:

      Thanks Ryan. To be frank, I just wrote what I thought spontaneously. There wasn’t a specific attempt to write a clever article. Glad that you liked it.

  5. SomeRandomGunner says:

    This is a great read, this is why I like Wenger so much. I liked his comment about ACN. I would associate more with a living model of Howard Roark (from Fountain Head) , hope he succeeds with his principles. Though his failure to achieve success in normal terms may not be a failure for him, but it will scare some lesser individuals taking his route.May be my interest in foot ball will die when Wenger leaves, enjoying while it lasts.

    • desigunner says:

      Thanks SRG.

      Even I liked his comments about the ACN, extremely insightful and covering all aspects.

      Thankfully, Wenger has seen success the way the world defines success. This gives a lot of weight to his words and inspires some of us.

  6. Gr8 article desi been a regular reader this was one of your finest ones

  7. Jayanth says:

    I suppose thats why we’re still loyal fans (considering the trophy drought).. Its all just about playing football.. really well.

  8. Diceman1984 says:

    What Wenger had done for Arsenal Football Club is beyond words it surpassed impatient comprehension of that in winning is the only yardstick of success.

    People always forget the amount of work and things he did right.

    I support Wenger through all these years despite the lack of trophy and gung ho approach in transfer market because he understands what it takes to make a great football club.

    People say chelski won things while we didn’t.

    2 league title and a few odd cups while spending almost a billion of cash achieving it does not make a club great.

    In this financial environment, Wenger is the ONLY manager who will guide a team through successfully on and off the pitch.

  9. Sandeep says:

    If you have seen 3 idiots movie, similar philosophy is talked about at the end of movie through baba Ranchordas’s gyan: “Kaabiliat badha, kaamiyaabi apane aap zaak maar ke peeche aayegi”

    Yes we all know Arsene always stands by his principles whatever the state of his team or players might be. But the most incredible thing is even with 5 seasons without a trophy for a club like Arsenal, club management has 100% belief in his abilities and his promises! I won’t say Arsenal have done bad but if you look at clubs like Real Madrid where managers are sacked even after wining La liga just because they didn’t perform in UCL! Kudos to arsenal club administration!!

  10. GUNNER49 says:

    LIVE ,FEEL and ENJOY the journey..don’t just look forward to the destination and risk missing everything along the way. That was kinda deep – Nice!

  11. […] I think the key here is the subject of the ‘extra special focus’. If it’s on the performance it should be positive. If it’s on the result it could be a problem. This is similar to the philosophy of the Bhagavad Geeta. I had discussed this in a different context last year, for details read this article. […]

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