As Narrated by Tiras Waiyaki
Football’s Coming Home, by Baddiel, Skinner & Amp; Lightning Seeds was playing as I excitedly wrote an article on Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne. Suddenly, in came a tweet informing me that my former trainee and Kenyan soccer player, Ayub Timbe Masika had secured a three-year contract with Lierse SK with whom he had spent the previous two seasons in the Belgian league on loan from K.R.C. Genk and my day was made. That was in 2016 and a little bit of water has passed under the bridge since, the little genius is now with Beijing Renhe in China.
Still waters run deep! There are few other ways to describe him. That is what I know the Kenyan football sensation as; very still water. Having coached him when he was a boy a 12-year-old, 14 odd years ago, I vividly remember a frighteningly quiet albeit devastating ‘tormenter’ on the opponents’ goal. Perhaps not the best way to describe a young soul but then how else would one do justice to the then upcoming “el phenomena?”
I first heard of him before we met. At the time I was a personal coach to eventual World Cup quarter finalist in Russia with Sweden and Deportivo Alaves striker John Guidetti, who was then 12 years. Guidetti, who has played for Manchester City and Stoke City told me of this miracle striker called Ayub who had just joined his team, Impala Brommapojkarna, of which I was a volunteer stand in coach at the time. Reading from the same script later that morning, Guidetti’s father raved -in a matter of fact way -about this new kid on the block who was a clear cut above the rest. This narrative was most unusual, which made me anxiously wonder just how good he was, as I longed to meet the young lad. The year was 2OO4.
Then came the day when we finally met and I was told there he is, there is ‘Ayubu’, as he was known. The Guidetti’s told me that he came from Kibera, Africa’s largest urban slum, like most of the team. I shook his hand, and said hello, he made no attempt at eye contact with me but there was a faint smile. It was a defence mechanism of gentle shyness that told me his story. He was a little man looking for a way out in life through football. This first impression knocked me for six.
Soon we took to the floor and for as long as life gives me time on earth, I will fondly live to remember the Carolina for Kibera tournament for ‘Ayubu’s’ performance that day. He silenced the entire Olympic Stadium at Olympic Estate, Kibera in a matter of minutes. He played like Rambo. It was action after action; dumbfounding! In the first match we were pitted against much bigger looking boys. For an Under 14 tournament our first opponents appeared visibly over the age. On paper we stood no chance. No chance whatsoever!
After our pep talk, the boys got onto the pitch with doubts in their heads but when the game commenced those nerves started to quickly fade away. Guidetti got fouled and let out as though to cry but my stern look at him would not permit for that. Seconds later he put through a rocketing pass that found ‘Ayubu’s’ chest on the ready. In a scene straight out of Hollywood the next thing we who witnessed it saw, was an acrobatic kick of a volley that flew the ball passed a hapless keeper. I instantly went bonkers for joy.
He was not done yet! His celebration entailed a sudden run and out of the blue somersaults, Obafemi Martin’s style. All the great stories I had heard about him were in fact an understatement, the little man was superman. Though small for his age, his game stood him out. For some reason, a young boy is not supposed to play like a FIFA Ballon d’Or winner let alone celebrate in such spectacular fashion but neither is such talent supposed to waste.
This was more than I could ask for. The entire stadium didn’t know whether to cheer on or cry. Countless mouths were agape as wide open eyes all round, spoke volumes! Two quick goals were to follow from my boys, which included another great ‘Ayubu’ gem, more somersaults and we were three up by half time. Our fellow contestants were busy ‘fighting’ each other long before then. In a way it was contrasting chaos from both sides. From ‘Ayubu’ especially, it was carnage. Still, he made no eye contact with me and was as gentle as a baby off the field.
The ‘rude boy’ who was collecting tournament fees had rudely told me that he would give me my change “later”. As soon as the second half begun the poor fellow came looking for me with my exact change. Ayubu’s performance had earned me my due respect in the “ghetto’’.
We went all the way to the final and I lost count of the times ‘Ayubu’ did his artful celebration. He just could not stop scoring. A turn here and another one there accompanied by a screamer and to think that spectators were not paying a single dime to watch, it must have felt like all their Christmases had come at once.
In the final, we lost badly to a team that we had beaten soundly in our second match of the day. It turns out that repeating a victory against the same side on the same day is quite a challenge. I have never been so happy while on the losing side in my life though, after all a star had been so publicly born in my stable!
‘Ayubu’ and Guidetti
At another tournament under my tutelage I had to take the boys passed one or two games and then leave them in God’s good hands as I rushed to work. They won the tourney and I was most glad.
During a boys league called Kiko Cup, Guidetti had an empty goal at his mercy but instead of scoring he turned and looked for ‘Ayubu’ with a pass, the other team recovered and we missed a golden chance. That explains why Guidetti successfully pleaded with me that day to let ‘Ayubu’ start the game in spite of the quiet lad showing up unusually late.
That is just how much the boys believed in him. We won this match 2-1. ‘Ayubu’ and Guidetti became like brothers, only the latter knew how to get him talking off the pitch. On the pitch they were a lethal striking partnership, off it they laughed together.
Truth is Guidetti admired ‘Ayubu’ immensely for his incredible talent. So did everyone! ‘Ayubu’ was a spectacular natural who needed little training or motivation. Pacy, could dribble, hold off an opponent, turn like Cruyff, create, read the game, anticipate, talk when it mattered the most, he could do it all. He was the best on the squad, by a mile, streets ahead of everyone! His discipline and impeccable manners were any coach’s dream.
And to think he was just slightly over ten years! His football told a story of a brave soul that desperately wanted to break the giant chains of poverty around it. Soon, Guidetti’s father started speaking of taking ‘Ayubu’ with them to Europe.
Truth is young John Guidetti literally cried day and night for this to become. Even at that young age Guidetti knew this bundle of talent would go to waste if left on its own in Kenya.
As for me, well, men cry inwardly. Life intervened and we all went our separate ways. ‘Ayubu’ made it to Europe in 2006, he joined Anderlecht’s Academy from JMJ Academy, before heading to Beerschot AC (then Germinal Beerschot) in 2008. In May 2010, he moved to Genk on a two year deal playing for the reserves until he signed a 4 four year contract with the club in 2011 making his debut the following year. In 2014 he was loaned to Lierse from Genk for two seasons with the option to buy at the end.
He made his international debut for Kenya’s national team Harambee Stars against South Africa in 2012 at the age of 20 having been born on 10 th September, 1992.
On his second call up he refused to play, claiming the Football Kenya Federation owed him money from his previous outing against Tanzania. He returned in May of 2014 against Comoros, in a 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier. His stunning freekick 12 days later in a return leg loudly announced his arrival.
He stunned everyone against Zambia when he not only set up Michael Olunga with a generous assist but kept threatening the former African champions almost on his own. Social media was abuzz with the young fellow. His opening goal against DR Congo’s Lingala Boys as they are otherwise known, in June of 2O16 his well struck goal almost blew the net away as it led to a famous victory against the Lingala Boys.
It puzzles me why both at club and international level, ‘Ayubu’ is given a roving role or positioned at the fringes as a winger. Even though that may speak bucket loads about his ability, it often tires him out or limits his goal scoring capacity and has been an impediment to his growth plus what he is capable of giving. He is a striker and in my view should play as such.
In early 2018, Ayub was suspended by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) for Harambee Stars next three 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers and fined USD 10,000 for an incident that occurred off the pitch against Sierra Leone away; he decided not to appeal against this. Subsequently, he would not play against Ghana and the two legged matches against Ethiopia.
In February 2018, ‘Ayubu’ moved to second tier club Heilongjiang Lava Spring on loan to allow him to recover from an ankle injury although there are other reports suggesting that he was released after the arrival of Cameroonian Benjamin Moukandjo. The club reportedly understood his predicament and it was not going to pile pressure on the young lad to play. However, he managed to net twice in six appearances while on loan.
In July 2018 Timbe was recalled from his loan spell after the departure of Brazilian Ivo from Renhe He had previously netted eight goals and played 23 times for Renhe before the injury in October 2017 and managed to get the club into the top division.
At the time of penning this piece ‘Ayubu’ has had eight appearances this season with Beijing Renhe and scored six goals in six starts, provided two assists and picked one yellow card. There is no stopping the young bloke whose talent is in born, it still drops my jaw and positively drives me bonkers. Glad the world got a chance to witness this outstanding piece of foot-balling solid gold.