This piece was kindly written for us by Tiras Waiyaki, who coached new Reading signing Ayub Timbe earlier on in his career. He talks us through Timbe’s full career so far, both at league and international level, and describes the strengths and weaknesses that Timbe will offer Reading. Many thanks to Tiras for his time.
These past few days have seen Kenyan social media almost blow up with the names Ayub Timbe Masika and Reading FC appearing together one post or tweet after the other. The same thing happened in January 2018 but nothing materialised of it. This time around Masika joined Reading, on loan until the end of this May, from Chinese side Beijing Renhe on the very last day of England’s football transfer window and all the noise around it had a positive ending. Here is the story of an exceptional boy whom we simply called, Ayubu.
“Tiras, there is a new boy who has joined our team and his name is Ayubu, he is out of this world. You will soon meet and watch him play. This boy is really, really good.”
Those words were uttered one fine morning by a lad who is now a Swedish international, John Guidetti, a name familiar in England because of his time with Manchester City, Stoke City and Burnley but perhaps even more familiar in Scotland where he won the league and cup with Celtic in 2015 and is remembered in Europe after Sweden won the UEFA Euro Under 21 tournament five years ago. I was John’s personal soccer coach and volunteered as a stand in coach for his team, Impala Brommapojkarna.
I took note of his words but moved on to our session. When this was over, Guidetti’s father walked up to me, looking stunned and echoed his son’s sentiments on the new recruit, making me realise that we were quite possibly on to something quite special.
I longed to meet this new striker, for Ayubu played as a striker back then, of whose raving reviews from both father and son had struck me as most unusual, even unprecedented for in spite of already having so much talent on our squad, this new one was said to be something else altogether.
It was not long before that day came and the Guidettis separately whispered to me, “There he is; there is Ayubu, that’s him.” I first met Ayubu at the Olympic Stadium right next to the Kibera Slums, now known as Kibra, Africa’s largest urban slum where our team was gracing the Carolina for Kibera Football Tournament. With an exception of Guidetti the rest of the lads came from Kibra.
John was living in Kenya with his family after his father got a job with the Swedish School, Nairobi. Ayubu was unlike most boys of that age who are understandably playful. He was reserved with a sweet but shy smile that came about whenever John tickled him, he seemed to have so much determination about changing his own life and that of his family for the better through football.
This new lad turned out to be a chap whose name is now quite familiar with Reading FC fans after he signed for the club last Friday on a loan spell from Beijing Renhe until the end of this season, Ayub Timbe Masika. We called him Ayubu!
Ayubu was like a little man who had obligations to fulfil. Whenever we shook hands he made no attempt at eye contact but gave away a faint sweet smile that instantly disappeared, giving way to a stern look. There was a defensive mechanism to him but that instantly told me his story. Here was a lad so determined to change his own life and that of his family. I went ahead and fielded him in my starting line-up.
It did not take long before I understood the true meaning of the phrase ‘still waters run deep’! This guy did not disappoint. Looks can be deceiving though for Ayubu was as tiny as they come, small for his age and very quiet; a bit like N’Golo Kante.
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. 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 fade away. Guidetti, whom I simply call John, 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 typical Hollywood demeanour the next thing that we who witnessed it saw, was an acrobatic kick of a volley and the ball flew passed a hapless keeper. I instantly went bonkers for joy. Mouths were agape all over the stadium no one could believe it, no one.
He was not done yet! His celebration entailed a sudden run and out of the blue somersaults, like former Newcastle United striker Obafemi Martin’s. All the great stories I had heard about him were in fact an understatement, the lad was something else altogether.
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 ever supposed go to waste. This was more than I could ask for. The entire stadium didn’t know whether to cheer or cry for joy, a star had been born in their presence from their own midst.
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 openly ‘fighting’ each other long before then. In a way it was contrasting chaos from both sides. From Ayubu though, 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 arrogantly told me that he would give me my change “later”. As soon as the second half begun the now seemingly apologetic fellow humbly 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, this must have been a treat and a half!
In the final we excruciatingly lost 3-0, to a team that we had earlier in the same day beaten with a similar margin, 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. All the same, never before have I been so happy while on the losing side in my life, after all a star had been so publicly born in my ‘stable!’
We were to lose yet another final at Impala Club, Nairobi to a well-taken free kick by a team that hailed from Jericho in East of Nairobi, having started the day well by beating a very technical German School, Nairobi by a goal to nothing. In an entire year, those two finals were the only games we lost under my watch. We drew a few but won most.
During yet another tournament at Impala Club, Nairobi under my tutelage, I had to take the boys beyond one or two games and then leave them in God’s hands as I rushed to work at Broadcasting House, Nairobi. They won the tourney and I was most glad.
During a boys’ league called Kiko Cup league match 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 is just how much Guidetti believed in him. We still won this match 2-1.
With time, Ayubu and Guidetti became like brothers, only the former knew how to get him talking and laughing off the pitch. On the pitch they were a lethal striking partnership, though at times the latter would play at the wing as I gave him freedom to rove, Ayubu sat at the top of our attack and finished off the business. Off the pitch they laughed together in each other’s arms. The truth is Guidetti admired Ayubu immensely for his incredible talent. So did everyone else anyway!
He was a spectacular natural who needed little training or motivation. Pacy, could dribble, hold off an opponent, turn like Johan Cruyff, create, read the game, anticipate, spoke little but positioned himself well enough to do his bit and do his bit he did, little Ayubu. The best on the squad, by a mile, streets ahead of everyone! His discipline and impeccable manners were any coach’s dream.
His football told a story of a brave soul that desperately wanted to break the giant chains denying him of opportunity. In all fairness though the team gave quality every single time. Once we had only eight outfield players but managed to secure a one-all draw against a full squad. In fact the team was winning until we conceded a painful last-minute goal.
This may have served as a lesson of playing to the very end because Ayubu’s first goal for Genk, years later, was an 88th-minute strike against Luzern in the UEFA Europa League. Those were good days and memories of me running onto the pitch to hug the boys upon victory against our opponents, or taking that long walk to console them, have come flooding in.
Flying the nest
Soon, Guidetti’s father started talking of taking Ayubu with them to Europe. The truth is young John Guidetti literally cried day and night nudging his father to make it happen. Even at that young age John knew this bundle of talent would go to waste if left on its own.
A few months before he turned 14, Ayubu made it to Europe in 2006, I believe courtesy of the Guidettis. He joined Anderlecht’s Academy from JMJ Academy, Nairobi before heading to Beerschot AC (then called Germinal Beerschot) in 2008. In May 2010, he moved to Genk on a two-year deal, playing for the reserves until he signed a four-year contract with the club in 2011, making his debut the following year and winning the Belgian Cup in 2013. In 2014 he was loaned to Lierse from Genk for two seasons with the option to buy at the end. They eventually bought him.
It was from here that he moved to Chinese second-tier side Beijing Renhe in February 2017 and scored eight goals in his first season that helped promote Renhe to the country’s top-most football tier, the Chinese Super League, in spite of suffering from an ankle injury in October 2017.
In February 2018, Ayubu moved to second-tier club Heilongjiang Lava Spring on loan to allow him to recover from his 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.
In the 2018 season, Renhe finished eighth in a league of sixteen, Ayubu scored bags of goals and provided a higher number of assists. Not bad for a side that had only got to the top tier of Chinese football at the end of the previous season! Sadly, last season Renhe were relegated and not even Ayubu’s return from a considerably long spell away due to knee surgery and the Africa Cup of Nations would rescue them.
In January last year, Ayubu was quoted in the media as having said that English Sky Bet Championship side Reading FC wanted his signature but there were hitches in his contract which prevented this from happening. This was about the same time Kenyan social media was going crazy on this possibility.
Ayubu 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 10th 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 on the big stage.
He stunned everyone against Zambia when he not only set up Michael Olunga with a generous assist but kept threatening the 2012 African champions almost on his own. Kenyan social media was abuzz with stories about his performance, and celebrated Kenyan journalist Linus Kaikai led in paying tribute with his tweet immediately after the final whistle:
Harambee Stars is the nickname of Kenya’s national soccer team.
Ayubu’s opening goal against the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, in June of 2016 was so well struck it almost blew the net away, leading to a famous victory against two-time Africa champions the Lingala Boys, as the DRC team is otherwise known.
Africa Cup of Nations 2019
In early 2018, Ayub was suspended by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) for Harambee Stars’ next three 2019 African Cup of Nations qualifiers and fined $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. Kenya still qualified for the continent’s premier competition.
Last year, in an Africa Cup of Nations build-up match against Madagascar, immediate former Harambee Stars coach Sebastian Migne fielded Ayubu in a deeper role at midfield and the latter felt that he had been played out of position as he essentially plays at the wing or as a striker. This was his first game under the tactician. When he was fielded as a right winger for the next build-up match which was against the DRC, he ran half the pitch, albeit from the left flank with the ball at his feet before finding striker Michael Olunga with the finest of assists. Migne and Ayubu had found mutual appreciation of each other.
Sadly, Kenya managed only one win at the Africa Cup of Nations albeit quite uplifting for it was against neighbours Tanzania, with Ayubu providing two assists in a pulsating 3-2 victory. Kenya lost to Algeria and Senegal in the group and left early.
There is no stopping the young bloke whose talent is in born, it still drops my jaw and positively drives me bonkers every time I think of him, my head moving from side to side while at it. I am not alone in this as a lot of Kenyans, Belgians and Chinese feel the same. I am glad England will now get a chance to witness this outstanding piece of footballing solid gold.
Our quiet, little Ayubu is going to play in the Sky Bet Championship and hopefully in the FA Cup too. Though the league is out of Reading’s sights, at the time of writing their FA Cup dream remains alive; I pray for this dream’s fairytale ending. Reading’s Kenyan fan base too is bound to grow, just as Tottenham’s, Southampton and Celtic’s did when they signed Kenyan captain Victor Wanyama at some point or the other. It would do no harm if Ayubu ended up in the Premier League.
Strengths and weaknesses
Ayubu’s greatest strengths are his passion, self-belief, focus, physical strength, low centre of gravity that provides stability while in motion, and consistency in giving his very best. He is also utterly fast on the ball but this may be his weakness in the face of a very physical English game that may expose him to injury. He also needs to hold back on his pace and pass the ball when necessary to avoid running into fatigue too early on in matches. Overall I think he was built for the English game and will adapt well enough.
Perhaps due to his blistering pace Ayubu has been given, both at club and international level, a roving role. I am not exactly sure when he switched positions from striker to winger. Even though this change of positions may speak bucket loads about his diverse talents, it often tires him out playing on the flank and may even limit his goal-scoring capacity. Perhaps this has been an impediment to his growth in football but then again his lack of height did not necessarily portray him as a natural striker. Either way Reading have a two-in-one player who can play on the wing and as a striker if need be.
Reading fans seem to have warmly welcomed Ayubu and I hope they compose a chant for him along the lines of:
“He’s Ayub from Kenya, runs quicker than Bolt with the ball at his feet. No one stops him, plays for Reading. He’s Ayub from Kenya. Hey!”
This January saw Ayubu move on loan to Reading and Guidetti to Bundesliga 2 side Hannover 96, on loan from Deportivo Alaves. In 2018 I watched John Guidetti waltz his way past opponents in a World Cup quarter final against England, as I did punditry on the Kenya Television Network and last summer I got to watch Ayubu fight for Kenya at the Africa Cup of Nations as I did punditry on the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation and Y254 TV.
In 2016 I watched Ayubu’s former team mate, Sylvanus Onyango Ochieng, celebrate on winning Kenya’s second top-tier league ultimate prize, the Football Kenya Federation National Super League, with Kibera Black Stars. Years later, I am mighty glad that our little team from Africa’s largest urban slum is still doing big things.