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A Liberian that lost his Wreh

WTTGT Writer: Vivek Arulnathan

Names will be forgotten with time unless you are some sort of a legend. I knew nothing about Christopher Wreh when my editor asked me to write an article on this former Gooner. After a little study, all I found was a career that never took off despite what looked like huge promise.

Now a member of the Soul Rebels, Wreh was a case of a player too confident in his abilities and subsequently failing to overcome the barriers that make you successful. Yet it is a bit surprising to know he is not remembered so widely given Wreh made a small, but hugely important contribution to Arsenal’s successful 1997-98 double-winning campaign.

Early Life

Wreh was born on May 14, 1975 at Monrovia, Liberia. A cousin of former FIFA World Player of the Year, George Weah, Wreh spent his early life playing for the Liberian clubs: Young Kotoko, La Modelle International and Invincible Eleven before he was snapped up by French side, AS Monaco as a youth in 1989.

Wreh never became first choice at Monaco and the striker spent most of the time warming the benches. He had a decent loan spell Guingamp, where he was part of the team that lost the Coupe de France on penalties. By this time he had already made his international debut for Liberia and went on to make 36 appearances and score 11 goals.

Wreh features for Guingamp

Move to Arsenal

Wreh was signed by his former Monaco boss Arsène Wenger (who had recently joined Arsenal) in the summer of 1997 for a fee of £300,000. When Wreh arrived in England he said:  “When Arsenal first tried to sign me people at Monaco told me not to come here because they had Bergkamp and Ian Wright, but it never bothered me.

“I never thought I had anything to prove to people. In Liberia I’m a star and I trust in my own ability. The boss brought me here because he knew I was a good striker and he had confidence in me.

“He knew that if Ian and Dennis weren’t there, I could score the goals for the team and work hard. I have no problem playing in front of 40,000 people because when I play for my national team, it’s in front of 60,000 people so that is something I am used to,” (liberiansoccer.com).

It was among the first of several bargain deals that Wenger would make in the coming years but unfortunately this one never went to plan in the long term. For a start, he was behind the likes of Ian Wright, Denis Bergkamp and Nicolas Anelka in the pecking order and as the season started, he found it difficult to even get a few substitute appearances. But his patience paid off as injuries to Wright and Bergkamp gave him his first start for Arsenal against Wimbledon. And it was a debut to remember, as he scored the winner in the 1-0 win. He again scored in the 1-0 wins against Bolton in the league and against Wolves in the FA Cup semi-final.

Wreh scores against Bolton

His performances were starting to justify his huge self confidence and he started in the FA Cup final against Newcastle which Arsenal went on to win. But with the return of Wright and Bergkamp, Wreh was again confined to the bench by the end of the year, subsequently playing his final game for Arsenal.

He had respective loan spells at AEK Athens, Birmingham and Den Bosch but none of them lasted long enough to even write about. With the signing of Thierry Henry, it finally put an end to his Arsenal career and he joined the Saudi club, Al Hilal, having made 46 appearances and scoring five goals in three years for the Gunners.

After Highbury

Within a year, he left Al Hilal after problems with the management. He then joined St Mirren in Scotland but that turned out to be a dreadful failure as he managed just three substitute appearances during his 18 month stay at Paisley.

He finally left St Mirren with a dwindling reputation and his career in tatters. Several clubs reportedly approached Wreh, with the likes of Dar¬¬lington, Brann Bergen, Beijing and Luton were being touted as possible destinations for the nomadic striker.

Instead he took a few months break and then returned to join non-league football in the Ryman Premier League with Bishop’s Stortford enabling Wreh to make his debut in a friendly against Enfield Town. But Wreh decided not to show up for the game and ex-Gooner, Martin Hayes who was manager of Stortford, told When Saturday Comes (WSC) that ‘he wouldn’t have even made the bench even if present.’

“Even if he had turned up for the Enfield game I wouldn’t have put him on the bench, never mind started him,” Hayes said.

“He missed several training sessions. 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 Twilight Years

Apart from his attitude problems, Wreh had problems with his weight and could never control his diet. Also, none of the clubs in the lower divisions were able to meet his high wage demands while having to cope with his troublesome ego. And his unwanted accusation of his cousin, George Weah made him a kind of villain among the Liberian fans.

In 2004, Wreh moved further down the league pyramid to Buckingham Town, and after a few disastrous months there, he decided to call it quits. He retired in 2005 and decided to concentrate on a music project called Soul Rebels which has since helped restore some of his lost pride.

Wreh did try to make a comeback in the game by joining MK Dons a few years ago, but again he couldn’t sustain himself and retired indefinitely within a few months.

There was once an anthem ringing around Highbury that sang “Riding along on the Christ-oph-er Wreh.” Wreh rode to every part of the world in search of some football but he probably was never destined to be as great as his cousin, George Weah.

The 1997-98 season is all that Wreh will want to remember when he looks back at his football career that simply never materialised into what it could well have been…

 

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