R&B singer Darey Art Alade was one of the fans that received Arsenal star of Nigerian descent, Bukayo Saka, when he visited Nigeria recently. He tells ABIODUN ADEWALE about his love for Arsenal, in this interview
How long have you been supporting Arsenal?
I’ve been an Arsenal supporter since the mid 1990s or thereabout. I have to say that I’ve had a long walk with the team through the ups and downs. And because of that too, I got used to a lot of things about the club, like having one manager for over two decades. I witnessed the start and the end of the Arsene Wenger era and all that came with it, particularly the ‘Wenger Out’ period. It’s been a long ride and worth every bit of passion that I have for the club.
Talk about the man Wenger, how would you describe him?
A gentleman. It’s as simple as that. He had his ups and downs with the club, like every other manager would. And I think he built what is now the club’s biggest legacy, which is winning the title without being defeated in 2004. He was such a special manager. He won three Premier League titles, seven FA Cups, and became the longest-serving manager in the Premier League after 22 years with us.
What’s your greatest moment as an Arsenal fan?
Certainly, the ‘Invincibles.’ It’s so great that it even endeared a lot of followers to us as well. Nothing compares to it.
Arsenal now and Arsenal in the 1990s, are there certain things that make you rethink your support?
No. I’m unshakable. Whatever we’ve been through, every club will have to go through it at some point. In other cases, it could even be worse. I mean take a look at Chelsea at the moment, United have had their bad times before this recent resurgence and they aren’t there yet. It’s just football and I think the worst that can be imagined is to stop watching matches for a while, but the love will always be there. It’s not going to change. We keep supporting our boys.
Let’s go back to the just-concluded season, how hopeful were you of winning the title, having led for long periods? Were you shattered losing the title to Manchester City?
It was tough but we are still here. I think for me I’ll look beyond last season and see Arsenal for the progress we have made under Mikel Arteta in the last two seasons. It was painful to have missed out on the Premier League but we live to fight another day. I’m sure the team has learnt a very hard lesson.
You’re back in the Champions League, how do you think that will go, after being out for several years?
It’s smooth sailing I must say and it’s a pointer that we have a lot to do to keep the energy. Like I said, the team has paid the price for the errors we’ve made. So, at the moment we just have to get the right signings in, clean up the defence, mop up the midfield and get the strikers firing. I think we are good to go.
Bukayo Saka was in Nigeria and you are one of those that were part of the fan experience. Where does he rank among your favourites at Arsenal?
Starboy! Saka is integral, I must say. If you pick Martin Ordegaard, you have to place Saka right next to him, then you mention Gabriel Martineli or Gabriel Jesus and others. Everyone is important, but he is more important to me because he is of Nigerian heritage, even if he plays for England. At the time he had the option, even if it was me, I would have chosen England. Despite that too, he holds his roots tight and we can see him travelling down here to connect with us as well. He visited the Governor of Lagos State, was at an orphanage and we saw his pictures in the hood. I’m really eager and excited to see what he has in stock for the grassroots. I also want my son to meet him as well and take pictures because he is also left footed and plays brilliant football. This is inspiring for the next generation and I’m really happy for him. It reminds me of when Gilberto Silva also came and we showed up to welcome him. When you see Arsenal players, whether current or past, it’s a great thing.
How crucial was Saka for Arsenal last season?
Absolutely crucial. I think he was even overplayed. He didn’t get enough rest and that affected his performance at some point. At the same time, nobody can be at 100 per cent all the time.
On a personal note, did you get to play football to the level that you could aspire to become a professional?
I played a lot of football and I still do. I didn’t give a shot about being professional. I also play basketball and tennis too. But I’m not as good as my son is.
How much support will you give your son if he wants to become a professional footballer?
I will give him 100 per cent and also make him realise he must finish school. It’s education and football, not football and education.
Who are your greatest players of all time in football and basketball?
In basketball it’s Michael Jordan and Lionel Messi for football.
Away from Arsenal, how is Livespot 360 and your music?
We are up and running. We are running the business and music is there too. There are many songs I haven’t released, but I’ve just been busy building the rest of the brand. Music is the passion and you know sometimes passion doesn’t pay the bills. I just have to get busy because I have to put food on the table for my family and I have like 100 members of staff too who would do the same. It’s not the easiest thing, but I still perform, I still travel around based on my music and other things related to being an artiste.