By Tony Attwood
Let me admit it from the start, with Christopher Wreh I just don’t get it. Here was a man who kept Ian Wright out of the Cup Final, and then was… well, in football terms, nothing. How come?
I’m not a footballer, never have been. I work in the arts, as a musician, writer and dancer. As such I have bad times – times when inspiration goes and my creations are not so good. Times when I walk away from piano and computer in utter despair. But I’ve never lost it totally, and always bounced back. How do you lose a talent so completely?
Christopher Wreh was born 14 May 1975 in Monrovia – a cousin of the staggeringly wonderful George Weah who could beat the entire opposition team, then do it again, and then score. Player of the Year etc.
Christopher played for Liberian teams before going to Mr Wenger’s team, AS Monaco. He got his first Liberian cap in 1995.
Wreh had featured under Mr Wenger at his first club, Monaco, where he had struggled to hold down a regular place as a youngster and was subsequently sent out on loan to Guingamp. But nonetheless Wreh signed for Arsenal in the summer of 1997 for £300,000, and that summer took part in a Liberian TV game show which included one challenge where he managed to outrun a lion. His fame was on the up.
As a forward he was playing in a side that contained Ian Wright, Dennis Bergkamp and the young Nicolas Anelka, but Wreh he did get games in the double season of 1997/8 and famously was in the starting line up against Newcastle in the FA Cup final.
But then having reached the top, he sank. He played in the Charity Shield game at the start of the next season, Thierry Henry turned up, and he went on loan to Birmingham, Athens and Den Bosch but that brief moment of top form would not return.
Having played 46 times for Arsenal and scored five, he left although is still the only Liberian national to have won the FA Cup.
As the chart below shows the decline was quick. Even at Bournemouth he was unable to get games, being told that he was too overweight to get in the side.
|1996–1997||→ Guingamp (loan)||33||10|
|1999||→ AEK Athens (loan)||11||4|
|1999||→ Birmingham City (loan)||7||1|
|2000||→ Den Bosch (loan)||7||2|
But the fact is that clubs signed him, for some reason. At St Mirren for example he stayed for 18 months and played 57 minutes. The match report for Liberia’s African Nations fixture against Niger in 2002 quoted in When Saturday Comes says: “Chris Wreh’s lethargy on and off the ball robbed the Lone Star of many scoring chances… The overweight former Arsenal poster boy must either shape up or ship out.”
Yet clubs still took him on. Typical was my local league club, Northampton. Terry Fenwick apparently saw something still there in 2003, but seven weeks into his contract, he was sacked. The event doesn’t even make it on to the list of clubs played for.
He worked under Martin Hayes at Bishop’s Stortford, and after Weah didn’t turn up for a game Martin said, “Honestly, even if he had turned up for the Enfield game I wouldn’t have put him on the bench, never mind started him. He didn’t turn up for training last Friday and that wasn’t the first time. I can never get hold of him. It’s not on. I have to think of the other lads who do put in the time and effort.”
The last club listed is in Indonesia. Six months into the contract he walked out and hasn’t joined a club since. But the stories are everywhere. In 2005 he was with a band called Soul Rebels for example, and that was supposed to be the start of his new career, but that seems to have been just another story.