Disclaimer: Don’t even bother with this post if all you know about football is Manchester United.
There’s plenty of things to say about 2004. Prezzo was still on our airwaves, telling the fans he loves them, and to the haters: Kuleni sembe, meza wembe. It was the year I’d finally taste a girl’s saliva. And it wasn’t as disgusting as everyone had made it out to be.
In 2004 GHC was still a thing. Twin Birds Academy was terribly understaffed. That year we got a new Math teacher -Mrs. Mburu. Her weapon of choice was a meter-long wooden blackboard ruler.
If you got a bad mark in the exam she’d parade you in front of the class. Then she’d instruct you to lower your socks, as if the socks would have shielded you from the impeding anguish.
The ruler would greet your mazgwembe with the heat of a thousand splendid suns, a pain so profound that you’d feel it at the base of your spine. Last I heard Mrs. Mburu went off and became a police officer. Hehe, she became the long arm of the law.
2004 was also the year I’d discover the almighty Prime Pen. The Prime Pen came and revolutionized the ink business. It ensured you didn’t stain your fingers while you inked up. The Prime Pen was the executive of pens. It was quick and easy to use. The Prime Pen was the biggest technological advancement since mring’arii. (You don’t know mring’arii?)
Everyone who owned a Prime Pen felt like they could sign peace treaties with Iraq.
And in 2004 I was still an esteemed customer of Bel-Air Barbers. I’d go there every two weeks along with BM. Bel-Air was where men convened on the weekends. There was an old radio at the corner that constantly played Radio Citizen: chemi chemi ya ukweli.
The waiting area was strewn with newspapers. On Saturday mornings Bel-Air was abuzz with banter and the smell of aftershave. I enjoyed being around those men immensely.
On the radio you had Fred Ombachi Machoka. And on the ground you’d have these bearded men who cracked lots of jokes. Their deep throaty voices would pour out of the grilled windows.
Some would come with beer on their breaths. Others would come in, read the day’s paper, and leave, and no one would bat an eyelash. Everyone was welcome in Bel-Air. You felt like a member of a club in Bel-Air, never mind that the neighborhood kids would later make fun of your exposed kisogo.
Like all Barbers, Bel-Air had a picture of Ludacris. But -and this is where we lose half of the ladies in the audience- Bel Air also had a framed poster of Thiery Henry with the ball at his feet. You’d see the poster as soon as you walked in.
This was 2004, and Arsenal was a powerhouse. On the grid you had players like Sol Campbell, and Patrick Viera, and Dennis Bergkamp. You had Robert Pires in the red boots and you had the clinical Henry, who would terrorize defenses with his swift feet. This was the dream team, and Wenger had it put it all together.
That season Arsenal went unbeaten. Nobody could have predicted it would be their last Premier League title in years, least of all Mr. Wenger.
On Friday last week, after 22 years at the helm, he announced that he’d be stepping down at the end of the season. And suddenly everyone who was running around with a placard saying Wenger Out was saddened to see him go. There was a tear-jacking tribute every half hour on SuperSport. Everyone had nice things to say about Wenger.
And all of it was true. His passion was plain for all to see, even though his team had become the butt of everyone’s joke. It was time to call it. There were no more guns in the arsenal. And even less people who believed in him.
Managing a poor performing team must have taken its toll. The light must have gone out and he realized he was never going to take Arsenal back to the glory days. And I felt sorry for him. I really did.
Not many people know this, but I had a brief stint as team manager in high school. I headed our class football team and it was totally self-declared. I even changed my name to Pep.
The trouble was that I was terribly clueless. I didn’t know shit about managing a team. I was just bored. I thought all it took was a scrap of paper and some rudimentary knowledge of Fifa.
If you wanted to be on the team you had to ask me first. After which I’d ask you the all important question: “Ushaicheza Fifa?”
And if you ever said you preferred PES to Fifa I’d tell you there were no more slots available. “Try playing for Form 3 South.”
(By the way, not to be sexist or anything, but do we still have girls in the audience?)
We played some good football during my time. I had assembled a group of players who produced magic on the pitch. In goal you had Tevin or Alfred. The defense was made up of hardy boys like Bill Nthuli and Kel4. Then there were fast dribblers like Glen and Sonje, all backed up by attackers like Kwemz and Mswa, and Ngandi. I had so many good players it was hard leaving others out. But it was plenty of fun.
Well, up until Sports Day, when my team got knocked out of the tournament by a bunch of high-flying Form Ones.
“Pep mnachapwa aje na form one?” was the constant soundtrack of my misguided career. It still remains to be one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. I was so ashamed, in fact, that I handed in my resignation two days later.
I’ve always wondered how Wenger must have felt. You saw him there, week after week, in his big coats and his pale skin, wringing his hands, wondering when the rain started beating him. His philosophies just didn’t seem to work anymore and the whole world was calling for his ousting.
I’ve always wondered what it takes for a man to hang on for that long, ever hopeful that the next season will be better. Then came the big signings that didn’t really translate to silver ware, and everyone agreed that Wenger was the problem. But is it really?
I only ask because I’ve been watching Arsenal’s game for some time now, and while they always show great promise there’s no getting around the fact that it’s the players who’ve let Wenger down.
Now you have the likes of Hector Bellerin, who seems to like making ponytails better than playing actual football. And then you have Iwobi, who is quite simply the most useless player to ever step on the pitch. Wilshere almost always has an injury of some sort and Xhaka finds a reason to be yellow-carded every week.
It’s not a very good line-up, and the next manager is going to have a lot on his plate. Arsenal will need a complete overhaul, and the whole world will be watching.
I see no reason to blame Wenger, though. No more than I should take the blame for losing to Form Ones on Sports Day.
But I’m however interested in how he’ll feel at the end of the season. He’ll probably get a fitting farewell party and the whole Emirates Stadium is going to give him an endless round of applause, but what happens the next morning? What will be going through his mind when all is quiet and he doesn’t have to go to the training ground?
He’ll have no reason to wear pants. He’ll wake up and he won’t know what to do with himself. Maybe he’ll go back to France and visit the countryside for a few weeks. Maybe he’ll take up painting. Or maybe he’ll buy a dog and call it Gooner. And then on match days he and Gooner will sit in front of the TV and watch Arsenal play. He’ll be like the distant lover. Maybe he’ll catch himself shouting instructions at the screen.
“Ugh, Iwobi, pass the fucking ball already.”
Maybe Arsenal will start to win again, and they’ll still be saying how they owe it all to Wenger. Then he’ll pour himself a drink, and sip it slowly as he waits for Fifa to load.