My First Love: I’m coming back…too!
One of the biggest news in sports, these past few weeks, has been LeBron’s return to Cleveland after 4 years in Miami. If you missed his announcement on Sports Illustrated,you probably won’t understand the tone of this post. ‘Bron (yeah, we are cool like that) announced his decision and then jetted off to South America before anyone could ask him questions. Well, I’m taking a page out of his book before I head to Mexico on vacation. #DontJudge.
Before I even knew what winning and losing a league was all about, Arsenal was the first team I cared about. I fell in love with Arsenal because of Thierry Henry. He had such electrifying pace and an arrogant demeanor. In fact, to me the whole team had this swagger about them and was, in that period, the only team that dared to challenge Manchester United’s apparent chokehold on the English league. Of course, it also didn’t hurt that NwanKwo Kanu represented the club. Back in secondary school, I looked forward to getting to school the next morning and arguing about Henry and Van Nistelrooy. (I still think Henry is better – the records speak for themselves). Arsenal was winning trophies just about every year, even going unbeaten in their last league title earning the moniker, “The Invisibles”. Everything changes after the summer of 2005, when the club won its last trophy, lifting the FA cup final against those other guys. Arsenal stopped challenging and I was becoming increasingly frustrated with the manager’s allusion to 4th place as a trophy. There didn’t appear to be any progress either and it appeared we were content to settle for the last champion’s league spot each season. No team wins forever, I get that; just ask Real Madrid (and those other guys in Machester) but all you can ask for is that each year you position yourself to compete and give yourself a chance to win. Arsenal, to me, wasn’t doing that and I made the decision to leave.
When I left Arsenal, I was hurt. We hadn’t won for a few years and I was seeking titles. There were too many close shaves: the Babel strike shortly after we scored against Liverpool, Obafemi’s goal in the Carling Cup final, the Eduardo injury that may or may not have cost us the title in 2007. More frustratingly, it appeared the manager had lost his competitive edge. We were losing our best players every year and replacing them with unproven youth. I couldn’t bring myself to root for any other team in the country.
I remember sitting there at the Leddy Library, University of Windsor knowing I was leaving behind something I had spent a long time rooting for. Arsenal is a club that had given me immense satisfaction over the years. If I had to do it all over again, I’d probably do things differently, but I’d still have left. Barca, for me, was an important learning experience. These past four years helped make me into a better fan, appreciating the difficulty in sustaining success. Without the experiences I had there, I wouldn’t be as objective as I am with the game today. It’s just sports after all. It is supposed to be a stress reliever not the stress agent it was becoming
Barcelona was the team most similar to arsenal as well as a team built to win and win now. I have enjoyed 5 glorious, trophy-laden years with Barca and I still want to celebrate as many titles as possible, no question. However, what’s most important for me is the feeling I had as a kid in Lagos: the kid who because of the lack of “light” at home or a cancelled DSTV subscription, was never hesitant topay his last thirty naira at a viewing center.
I started supporting Barca in the summer of 2010 because of Messi, Iniesta, Xavi and the puppet master, Guardiola. I was walking away from the team that has given me all the kinds of emotion you can possibly derive from watching football. I recognized something magical brew in Barcelona. This was a golden generation in ascension; a team built to win and dominate – and that’s exactly what we did! The hardest thing to leave is the winning culture we have become accustomed to at Barca. Granted, the team did not win any major trophies last season but this is a team full of winners and I’m impressed with some of their off season moves. With the little magician, Messi, Neymar and the addition of Suarez, there will surely be a bit more bite to the attack – no pun intended of course. Nothing will ever change what we accomplished. I want to thank the wonderful Barcelona organization for giving me an amazing four years; it truly is “more than a club”. Nothing lasts forever; at least I have these memories.
Arsenal and I are like the couple that can’t be together and yet can’t stay apart! always believed that I’d return to Arsenal, I just didn’t know when. After the season Arsenal had, they have made some aggressive moves in the transfer market that signifies a real intent to mount a sustained challenge. At the same time, Barca is becoming too jaded for me – too easy. Winning almost feels assured and you can’t get involved in any meaningful discussions because not a lot of people follow the Spanish la liga. I looked at other teams, but I wasn’t going to leave Barca for anywhere else but Arsenal. The more time passes, the more right it feels. This is what makes me happy.
I know how difficult it is to win the league title and as such I have measured expectations this go around. The team won the FA cup last year and we’ll love to consolidate on that this season but I’m realistic. It will be a long process. My patience will get tested again. I know that. I’m going into a situation with a young team and a coach who appears to have found his competitive edge again.
I have experienced the highs of winnings with Barcelona and if there is anything that has taught me, it is that winning is as much as a part of sports and life in general as is losing. Except for the humiliation at the hands of Bayern in the Champions league, I never really felt a sense of sadness when Barca lost. It was almost a given that they’ll win again. I missed the passion and uncertainty Arsenal provided. I probably won’t be punching walls in celebrations or running around the streets in celebration – age and several hundreds of dollars in repairs has taught me better.
In the English premier league, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.
My relationship with the club is bigger than football. I didn’t realize that four years ago, I do now. I’m ready to accept the challenge. The love has been rekindled, I’m coming back.
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