Wanyama the conductor in Stars opera of success
He is simply the highest paid footballer in the country’s history, towering above his Harambee Stars teammates who would be excused for feeling intimidated in his presence.
What he earns in a week could easily total what more half of his teammates make from playing football in a year, if not a lifetime- yet captain Victor Wanyama has managed to be part of the gang, not its towering overlord.
When Stars fortunes took a tumble for the worse under the previous Football Kenya Federation (FKF) regime, it was his voice that rose the highest to push for their rights when officials bickered with the playing unit.
Now, the team is enjoying sunny days, having not lost in seven ahead of their Tuesday clash against Liberia in Nairobi with the camaraderie among Stars players one of the key reasons results and confidence have been slowly creeping back to the side.
Think of Cristiano Ronaldo with Portugal, Neymar with Brazil or Gareth Bale with Wales to get inkling of how influential the English Premier League (EPL) giants Tottenham Hotspur player is among his teammates.
The team’s change of fortunes has coincided with his meteoric rise at White Hart Lane with Wanyama growing in prominence since his move from Southampton FC where he was recently named the man-of-the-match in the North London derby against Arsenal.
When the Royal Media Services crew checked into the team’s camp at Safaricom Stadium, Kasarani to air a special edition of Monday Football, lead host Mike Okinyi surrendered the microphone to Wanyama to take over.
That is when the watching public who had tuned in for the popular show got to see another side of the man who has sets tongues wagging as Kenya’s most visible footballer and the glamour that comes with it.
Without batting an eyelid, the Spurs and Stars midfield lynchpin set about interviewing his colleagues like a seasoned broadcaster in Sheng– the slang language that combines English, Swahili and local dialects widely used among Kenyan youth- to make them feel at ease.
It was hard to place the man who only a fortnight ago, appeared alongside his manager Mauricio Pochettino at a UEFA Champions League press conference ahead of their game against German titans Bayer Leverkusen in Wembley to speak to the world.
From calling them in their nicknames and laughing along with senior and junior members of the squad, Wanyama went on to encourage the boys to engage in the kind of banter that has been absent from the long-suffering team as the cameras rolled.
Defender David ‘Calabar’ Owino who plies his trade at Zambia’s Zesco United capped it all when his captain placed the microphone in front of him as he explained what had sparked the recent good run.
“Things are being done in a more professional way nowadays, but togetherness inside and outside the pitch has contributed a lot. That’s why we are able to keep many clean sheets and more will come,” the centre-half stressed.
He has been nicknamed after Malian international Mamady Sidibe whom they share some semblance in appearance despite the former EPL side Stoke City star who played as a forward.
Wanyama even chided the player for keeping ‘a secret lady’ in Zambia, with Owino denying to the hilt.
The defender went on to disclose his Zesco teammate; Jesse Were ensures they never miss their favourite corn dish Ugali in Ndola where their club is based with midfielder Anthony ‘Teddy’ Akumu completing the Stars trio who turn out for the Zambian giants.
Kenyan Premier League (KPL) side Mathare United midfielder Eric Johanna who scored against Mozambique in the 1-0 victory on Saturday is nicknamed Ng’olo Kante after the Chelsea and France star.
He joked the food they are being served in camp is the real reason behind his improved showing with the national side he first joined last year.
Budding KPL giants Gor Mahia left back Eric ‘Marcelo’ Ouma told his captain he likes it when his legs do the talking when asked the reason behind his explosiveness on the pitch and timidness off it.
Wanyama hailed the teenager’s speed saying he is keenly following his character and personal aspects of the game.
South Africa Premier Soccer League side Maritzburg United’s Brian Mandela revealed on camera they often go for jaunts in the sprawling notoriously crime-riddled Nairobi Eastlands estates with Wanyama – incognito.
“You ask me about my barber? You know him, he’s called Tellah. He even shaved you once when we visited his place. You can’t deny that.
“To the youth of Mbotela (Estate) its possible to shine internationally, we are doing it in South Africa for them and to tell the world there is talent from Kenya,” Mandela told.
Wanyama is aware that Patrick Matasi is the meanest shot stopper in KPL although the keeper is yet to play for the national team having been called up to the team as a reserve.
Away from the banter, Wanyama declared he was in touch with agents he knows abroad to introduce them to the finest talent in the land as he aspires to see more Kenyans playing in the top European leagues.
“I cannot say I will hold your hand to a certain club but when a player is playing well and there is a chance I tell the agents to try him. The rest part rests with the player to work hard.”