Mantalk: Here is the unofficial guide to surviving the World Cup for girlfriends and wives

Mantalk: Here is the unofficial guide to surviving the World Cup for girlfriends and wives Photo | Photosearch

What you need to know:

Occasionally, your man, if he is a Manchester United supporter (Manchester United is not in the World Cup), might get heart palpitations

Is it possible to long for something that is not there yet? Because this World Cup is making me wistful. The Portuguese writer Manuel de Melo had a term for this ache of longing: Saudade—"a pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy."

The feline section of this column may not give a rat’s arse about the World Cup but for those who want to maintain a relationship with the men in their lives—husband, boyfriend, brother—not necessarily in that order, then consider this the ultimate crash course. Pointedly, understand that your man is about to become a vegetable. Let him be.

The quadrennial World Cup is the pinnacle of football, its crown jewel, the Midas touch with sprinkles of stardust. Think of your regular office drama, but with levels. It is a stirring spectacle just taking in the colours, the anthems, the crazy haircuts, the celebrity girlfriends, and the feeling of the sporting foci in play. It’s a fun, seductive affair.  32 teams. Four weeks, and change.  One champion. It doesn’t get better than this. 

Kenya World Cup aficionados (read: your man) have had to adopt a team. Some do it because they like the players. Others like the uniform. Most don’t even know why they like them; they just do. It’s a harmless obsession. Your task is to find out what nation your man is dating. Or nations. There are no rules here as long as you’re not obvious. Are you obvious? No, you’re not. You’re an indefatigable iconoclast. A contrarian. Act like one. Think of a country. No, not that one. No, Zanzibar is not in the World Cup. Neither is Madagascar. Oof. Pakistan? Come on. But I’ll give you credit for siding with the little guy.

First is it soccer or football? By the power vested in me, it’s definitely football. Soccer? Ugh. Don’t be those people who use the word ‘irregardless.’

'Irregardless', because our country is complicated, troubled, and its politics opaque, we are searching for a celebratory strain of nationalism. What else unites men other than beer and sports and nyama choma? We love a circus, and we love having an excuse to cut work and daytime drink en masse. What about the rising cost of living? Be serious. We have Messi’s Argentina to support to get his first World Cup. Who is Messi? Messi is like the greatest rapper of all time, J. Cole, but for football.

See, your man is drawn to football because of its uncertainty. That uncertainty is what keeps football kicking. In fact, if you squint carefully, it’s not unlike many Nairobi relationships. I mean, there is always someone on the bench ready to substitute for you.

How does it work? If it’s the football—and not the Nairobi relationships dynamic—then it’s pretty simple. You know how you have at any one time three to four men hitting on you? And then you do elimination rounds for all the men until you get to, say, two who are in ‘the final’? Exactly.

Now, if you want your relationship to last, you better know the teams. Who is Neymar? He plays for Brazil. Cristiano Ronaldo? You've heard of that one, right? He plays for Portugal. Mbappe is the fresh-faced kid on the block, shiny as a button. He plays for France.

Jesus will also be at the world cup—not that Jesus—but Gabriel Jesus. But that other Jesus is welcome too. I mean he is omnipresent, is he not?

What is the best gift to get your man during this season? I don’t know which team your man supports, but if he is a Pan-Africanist and Hotep and ‘in-touch-with-his-roots’; whatever that means, get him a Senegal jersey, the obvious non-obvious choice. Do you know the nickname of the Senegalese football team? No? It is the Lions of Teranga.

I know, right? How great is that? Not just any lion, but one from Teranga. I don’t know where that is, but it sounds like Teranga is a ferocious place. That’s a good enough reason for me/you/us to pull for Senegal. Just because.

If he is into that mushy-mushy stuff, basically a tech bro, get him a Japan or Qatar jersey. Every man knows those teams aren’t going anywhere. Not with the Lions of Teranga baying for blood.

“My man said he is going to China for the World Cup.” Your man is lying. There is no man there. The World Cup is in Qatar. But, have you checked how many tickets he paid for? He may be going to China for a different shindig. God, like the devil, is in the details.

Occasionally, your man, if he is a Manchester United supporter (Manchester United is not in the World Cup), might get heart palpitations. What you need to do is avoid him at this time, don’t mention how Manchester United—or his team at the World Cup, keeps losing the ball. He might just file for divorce. Just like his team(s), he is weak.

Do I need to support my husband’s team? The Bible says for what God has brought together, let no team put asunder. If I were you, I’d buy him merchandise with his favourite World Cup team. Love may be for the birds but if you are not careful, he will fly away into the sunset with someone who cares enough to get him the home away, and third kits. 

Will I get to watch my Korean soap operas? Yes—and no. Yes, if you support South Korea, they are in this year’s World Cup! But generally, and with all due respect to your feelings, the answer is no.

The hangover of the World Cup may last long after. So give him grace, (and if you can, also let him hang out with Grace), to debrief. Football is like going to therapy. People often aren’t from there. They arrive there, looking for missing pieces.

This leads them to places no one, least of all them ever expects to end up. If he is not overly expressive, this might be the only chance to marvel at his range of emotions. Never seen your man cry? Wait till Thomas Partey hits a belter against Portugal in the 89th minute. Then Cristiano wins a penalty in the 91st minute. Life is unfair but football is brutal. Hold on, you mean Ghana is at the World Cup? Yes, Ghana is at the World Cup. Along with Cameroon, Morocco, Tunisia and Senegal. I know what you want to ask. No, Kenya is not at the World Cup—we already talked about this. In fact, Kenya has never qualified for the World Cup. But guess what? We have Kipchoge, and no one is ever taking that away from us, not even Kipchoge himself. In athletics, we run the world.

Weak pun aside, this is a time of great confusion for many relationships. I get you may start doubting how your man knows Son’s exact shirt number, and dribbles per 90, but never remembers your anniversaries. Wait, who is Son? We have a son? No, not son, but Son. Son Heung-min. He is blistering fast. And eminently affable. He plays the game for South Korea with the ebullience of an Ewok. Yes, so, don’t take it personally, but Son has won your man more points for his Fantasy Premier League (FPL) than you will ever do with your tie-and-boxers birthday gifts. Son, and/or Ronaldo is quite possible, and I say this in no exaggerated terms whatsoever, the best thing that ever happened to your man. Be like Son.

And if his team loses in the early stages, or in the finals, the best thing you can do is not mock him, but pet him. It’s not a huge gesture—but it’s the thought that counts. There is a reason it’s called the beautiful game. If your man’s team wins the World Cup, bask in his pool of self-indulgence. Ask for anything, a holiday, a car, marriage. All.

Oh, and by the way, the first game is on Sunday (tomorrow), November 20. I can’t wait. Ecuador against Qatar. Tasty. Armed with this Confucius-level knowledge, you can tell him that Senegal may not win the World Cup, but he already has the ultimate trophy. You.


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