Strikers Come From South America
I listened to Jens Lehman bemoaning the dearth of strikers in Germany, or rather, German strikers. There are none, he explained. We don’t produce them anymore. All we have are false nines like Muller and Gotze. And he has a point: Germany used a 53 year old striker, now retired, to win the world cup.
Strikers come from South America. Like Paddington. A phenomenon that is almost as hard to explain.
Spain, drowning in brilliant midfielders, was so desperate for a striker,after David Villa was retired, that they sold their soul for that Brazilian c***, who inevitably embarrassed himself, Chelsea and Spain. And yet only Spain found it embarrassing.
Wenger talked about this striker scarcity: “If you look across Europe and the world of football, then South America is the only continent to develop strikers today. If you look across Europe where are the strikers from? You will see that at least 80 per cent come from South America.
“Maybe in our history street football has gone. In street football when you are 10 years old, you play with 15-year-olds so you have to be shrewd, you have to show that you are good, you have to fight, win impossible balls.
“When it is all a bit more formulated then it is developing your individual skill and your fighting attitude less. We have lost a little bit of that in football.”
But it is not just supporters who read these comments. Players read them too. And one player in particular was struck by Arsene’s words. Theo Walcott wondered what they could mean for him. He had long since made it clear to anyone who would listen that he dreamed of playing at Center Forward. And yet he was still the bridesmaid, never the bride. Theo sat bolt upright suddenly: “Alexis…that bastard. He’s South American, isn’t he? That one trick pony of a Chilean midget has come for my striker spot, hasn’t he?”
And so he pondered, pondered, and pondered some more. Should he leave the club? Was he from the wrong continent to ever get a chance? Was he never going to get a look in simply because he was too English, too nice or too soft? Or even more basically, had he just not suffered enough as a child?
Then it came to him, the answer that could only come to a person with the weakest of personalities but the steeliest of resolves…
And so, on the first day of pre-season, 2015, Theo drove up to Colney in his brand new second hand Seat. Ignoring everyone he met, he made straight for the boss’ office, knocked on the door and then entered.
“Hhhhhelloh, Meeestare Arsen Wengare, Hhhhi am pleeeesse to meet yyooo.”
Arsene looked up and slowly raised an eyebrow. It was probably the sombrero on Theo’s bonce that made the penny drop for him.
“Hello Theo,” Arsene replied patiently.
“Hhhi yam hhhonared dah yu nah ma naeeem, Meeestare Wengare. Buh hii preeefare to be call Teofilio. De nhaeem ma mahare gave me when she poooll me from hare woooomm weeh ha vakyooom cleenehh.”
Teofilio went on to tell “Senor Wengare” his life story, starting with his childhood: how he was born in one of the poorest slums of Buenos Aires, Uruguay, was raised in the Favelas there and played soccer on the Copa Cabana beach every morning before he worked his 3 jobs. His mother was the biggest whore in all of Buenos Aires and his father was a pimp. But they were very loving parents to their 17 children. Teofilio was the oldest and now with his new found wealth had built the family a mansion in the middle of the favela because they wanted to stay humble people. And he had constructed the Teofilio Walchez Football Academy For Orphans and Waifs right next to it so that other kids could play their way out of poverty.
It all really started when he was 14 and was discovered by Boca Juniors. And it wasn’t long before he was promoted to Boca Seniors. Then in a grudge match against their local rivals, Neville’s Young Boys, his childhood sweet heart, Melanita, was struck by a rock hurled by the Ultras and put into a coma. With the government controlled healthcare system being corrupt, they demanded he bring them 10m pesos a week to keep the life support machine running.
At this time he was playing as a Centerback and this was more money than a centerback would ever be paid. And so he was forced to ignore his coach’s instructions and he started making runs from the back, devastating runs, from defence all the way up the pitch and in behind the opposition defence, creating space for the attack and often scoring. It turns out he was a surprisingly effective striker, a striker who could earn 10m pesos a week, as long as he scored 1 goal or assist per 90, as measured by Squawka.com. That was the deal he came to with his club.
And so he scored…and scored, just to keep her alive, and has been scoring ever since to keep her alive.
Teofilio went on about his life story to a very, very patient Arsene Wenger. And on. And on. It seemed he had endured many tragedies. Terrible tragedies. Unimaginably terrible tragedies. There seemed to be no end to the hardships, from coaches who made him play with broken glass in his boots so that he would improve his balance, to the game he had to finish with a broken leg splinted to his good leg for 70 minutes and then 30 minutes of added time, before his penalty won them the Copa Che Guevara. And grandparents who died in his arms. So many grand parents who died in his arms. Possibly as many as 9. But his favourite was his Nannita, the grandmother to whom he now pointed in the heavens after every goal, the grandmother who had breast fed him as a baby through the terrible deprivations until his first professional contract.
The recounting of the endless horrors would likely have continued for the rest of the morning had Dick Law not knocked and entered.
“Oh, hi Theo,” he said in a voice that trailed off as he marvelled at Theo’s huuuge sombrero, a sombrero with the wingspan of the extinct South American Condor.
“Buenos Dias, Senor Ricardo. How eeece dee man who sighhhhhn meee froh dah sloooms haf Cheeeelay hon deeece fhine daeeey.”
“Errr, good Theo. Good. Anyway, Arsene, I’ll, eh…leave these papers with you.”
“No, Dicky. Why don’t you take Teofilio with you on a quick tour of the grounds and facilities, given, you know, the fact that you’re not to be signing anyone this summer. Keep you both out of harm’s way, so to speak.”
“Cheers, Arsene. I owe you,” he said with a tone of mild menace.
“Soh halong, Meeestare Wengare. Hhhi luke forwhared tuh plahhin fah hayuuuh, no?”
About 30 minutes later, Dick Law burst back into Arsene’s office: “What were you thinking, Arsene, humouring him like that. The guy is seriously losing his marbles. I’ve no idea what he’s saying. No one does. And he’s now leading the whole team in the Macarena for the warm up “just like Maradona taught him.” Shad is having a meltdown.”
“Ricardo…” said Arsene.
“Please don’t call me that, Arsene.”
“Dick, the only thing that matters here is that Theo, I mean Teofilio, believes that I believe he’s from South America, painful as this may be for all of you.”
“Arsene, he’s demanding to be paid 10m Bolivian Pesos a week.”
“How much is that in pounds?”
“About 10 grand.”
“Okay then. He could have 14 coma girlfriends for what we pay him.”
“Arsene, your sense of humour is becoming darker and darker.”
And so it continued. Teo would only sit with the Spanish lads at the lunch table, speaking with his terrible accent and refusing to eat anything but burritos and nachos while the boys were under strict instructions to play along.
And if he ever spotted a poor reporter around the grounds before they spotted him, he would bend their ear with another telling of his highly fluid and yet harrowing life story.
But Teofilio Walchez did get his start for the Arsenal, a start Arsene was planning to give him in any case. And he never let it go, scoring 1 goal or assist in every match.
And Arsenal in kind continued to “play along” with their striker, persuading the TV channels to call him by his South American moniker, against stiff resistance, by invoking the Memphis (Depay) precedent.
Teofilio Walchez’ post-match interviews became quite the spectacle in and of themselves, a car crash of the sublime and the ridiculous. Teo initially employed Santi Cazorla as his interpreter for these but stopped due to Santi’s “impenetrable Catalan accent” (he doesn’t have one) and so Teo switched to a dumb-founded and terrified Gabriel as his go-to interpreter. To be fair, Teo seemed no worse at Portuguese than Spanish.
To Gabriel’s credit, he worked hard on his English which helped him talk to the interviewer but not to Teo and so not once did a question ever make it from the interviewer through Gabriel to Teo and all the way back again. And yet Walchez was inexplicably popular in every country across South America – a nearly impossible feat – and EPL broadcasting revenues soared commensurately to the point where a pundit who accidentally referred to him as Theo Walcott twice was fired the same evening.
Teo seemed unphased by these comically disastrous interviews – unaware, immune, inoculated. More than that, he looked like the cat who had got the milk. Or as Teo would say, “O gato tinha começado o leite.” He ended each interview in broken English, humbly thanking God, and dedicating his success to his Nannita, and his coma sweetheart, Melanita, and most of all to “his people” from the favelas.
The boy from the favelas of Stanmore, London, was finally living his dream: Center Forward for The Arsenal.
Next stop…Center Forward for England! Oh.