Growing up in the 1990s, the walls of Victor Wanyama’s tiny room in the slums of Muthurwa in Nairobi Kenya were littered with posters of international soccer stars, the likes of Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira.
During his childhood in this hardscrabble neighborhood, football was his escape, he would watch it in the open-air cinemas before he started playing in the Muthurwa league. It was there that Wanyama’s coach noticed his passion was backed by a unique skill and there his soccer path was charted.
He started his career with Kenyan clubs Nairobi City Stars and AFC Leopards in the Kenyan Premier League in 2006 and 2007, before joining Swedish club Helsingborgs IF U21 team.
His coach organized for him to go to Sweden where his older brother Macdonald Mariga was also playing soccer.
Between 2008 and 2011, Wanyama played with Beerschot AC in the Belgium Jupiler Pro League, appearing in 41 regular-season games, eight playoff games, and five Belgium Cup games.
I met virtually with Victor Wanyama, the captain of the Kenyan soccer team, aka The Harambee Stars, and CF Montreal’s midfielder, and caught up on his journey, successes, and future ambitions.
Montreal’s sub-zero weather hasn’t taken the wind out of Wanyama. His voice is full of grit and enthusiasm as he talks about his career and his continuing passion for football.
Wanyama joined Club de Foot Montreal last year (formerly Montreal Impact) signing a three-year contract after playing four seasons with English club Tottenham Hotspurs FC, where he scored six goals and one assist in 69 regular-season games, including 47 starts, and 4,385 minutes.
He was part of the team that reached the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League Final, appearing in five games in the knockout stage, starting in three games, against Borussia Dortmund, Manchester City, and Ajax.
He played in 13 UEFA Champions League games, two Europa League games, nine FA Cup games, and four EFL Cup games with the Spurs. He won the Premier League Goal of the Month for February 2018, following a stunning strike against Liverpool.
He previously made his English debut with Southampton F.C. in 2013, becoming the first Kenyan player to appear in the English Premier League (EPL.) In three seasons with the Saints, he recorded four goals and two assists in 85 Premier League games, including 74 starts, and 6,515 minutes. He also took part in three Europa League qualification games, three FA Cup games, and six EFL Cup games.
Under former manager, Thierry Henry who Wanyama refers to as “a good man on and off the pitch,” he managed the transition into Major League Soccer (MLS) in Montreal.
“The city is nice, and the people are good, I’m sure I’ll get used to the weather I have enjoyed my first year playing for the team.”
It was a shaky adjustment but Wanyama has found his footing. “The game was tough and fast in England, here it’s tough but not as grueling. I had to learn the style but now I’m looking forward to an even better season.”
In the last season, the 29-year-old managed to start in all 21 matches and scored two goals and two assists.
Now seen as a veteran on the team, there has been talk that the new manager, Wilfred Nancy is ready to thrust him into a leadership role.
Wanyama says he is ready for all that comes with it.
“Being chosen for leadership is a big deal. I am a person who likes to help other people and I always want the best out of my teammates. I think all these things are what they saw in me. I am looking forward to enjoying the role and helping all my teammates,” he says.
Standing at 6-foot-2 and weighing about 176 pounds, Wanyama says he’s proud of his journey and he reckons that being in the MLS will push scouts to go and look for talent in Kenya and Africa as a whole.
“We have a lot of talent even in Kenya and I am an example of that I hope that scouts will go and look for the younger generation players to come and play in the different teams here.”
As we speak it’s clear that Wanyama is passionate about not only helping others on the pitch but off the pitch and more specifically in his motherland of Kenya.
He started the Victor Wanyama foundation to help the less fortunate in the slums of Kenya. His philanthropy saw him bag the Best of Africa Role Model Award in 2017.
He was also moved by the plight of women in the community who lost their jobs or had no business due to the coronavirus and took some steps to help mitigate the situation.
“The foundation has been going around to, ghettos carrying out training, teaching our mamas how to sew masks and sell them and have something for their families. We have also been going distributing masks and educating the people on proper measures to take for the virus.”
Wanyama recognizes that in the slums it is hard to maintain social distance, but mass awareness and education can save the population from being infected and spreading it amongst themselves. His charity is also looking to build houses for the homeless in another slum area known as Korogocho.
“I can never forget where I came from,” he says.
As the captain of the national team in Kenya, he hopes that this time they can do well enough at the qualifiers to get to the World Cup finals.
“We want to make Kenya proud,” he says quietly.
At the international level, Wanyama has scored seven goals in 56 games with the Kenyan national team, repeatedly wearing the captain’s armband since 2012. He made his senior debut in 2007 at 15 years old.
He started three games in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations and has appeared in several World Cup and AFCON qualification games throughout his career.
He says his pre-game routine is pretty sporadic; he doesn’t have fixed behaviors or a playlist.
“I listen to anything depending on my mood,” he says.
However, heavy on rotation are artists such as Sauti Sol from Kenya, Harmonize from Tanzania, Burna Boy, and Adenkule Gold from Nigeria.
He remains optimistic about his career, the ways he sees it, as the designated “Lion of Muthurwa” Victor Wanyama still has a lot of roar in him.
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