A victor in many respects

David Lee profiles the first Kenyan to take part in the EPL.

At just 22 years of age, Southampton’s Victor Wanyama has already achieved far more than the average footballer.

Two Scottish Premier League titles, a Scottish Cup and a UEFA Champions League goal against Barcelona make for impressive reading. Also throw in the fact he holds the impressive accolade of being the first Kenyan to play in the English Premier League and it leaves you with one remarkable individual.

Regardless of a player’s nationality, being the first man to represent that country in one of the world’s top leagues deserves recognition. With Kenya’s estimated population currently around 45 million, Wanyama’s achievement is put into even greater perspective.

The midfielder’s journey to the EPL has not come without sacrifice. After choosing to leave his homeland on two separate occasions in search of better footballing opportunities, Wanyama has been forced to leave his parents behind in order to fulfil his dream.

He first left home at the age of 12 to join his brother, Macdonald Mariga, at the academy of Swedish club Helsingborg. His brother’s departure to Italian Serie A side Parma hastened Wanyama’s return to his homeland, only for him to go back to Europe four years later with Belgian side Anderlecht.

Like many youngsters stuck in highly competitive academies, Wanyama became frustrated with his lack of opportunities and signed for another Belgian side, Beerschot AC, in the summer of 2008. A few seasons of obscurity hardly tell an enthralling story but when Celtic manager Neil Lennon swooped on Wanyama in July 2011, his career trajectory took off into uncharted territory.

Possessing the unrivalled combination of physical prowess accompanied by an expansive passing range, Wanyama soon justified the GBP900,000 that Celtic paid for his services.

His decision to wear the number 67 shirt, in honour of Celtic’s 1967 European Cup-winning side, endeared him to the Celtic Park faithful and paved the way for two successful years in the Scottish Premier League.

Wanyama’s trophies in Scotland have been overlooked due to the dominance Celtic have enjoyed over the last decade, but a goal in the 2-1 win against European giants Barcelona at Celtic Park is an achievement that can never be forgotten.

Not only did the goal pave the way for a famous victory, it added another record to the midfielder’s growing list as he became the first Kenyan to score in the UEFA Champions League.

The accolade of being the first Kenyan to appear in Europe’s most prestigious club competition had already been secured by his brother playing for Inter Milan.

Further records lay in store for the younger sibling though as Southampton signed him in July 2013 for GBP12.5 million — the highest transfer fee ever received by a Scottish club.

A hairline fracture to his leg picked up in the 3-2 home loss to Aston Villa in December has limited Wanyama’s appearances in his debut EPL season, but a three-month lay-off has not prevented him showcasing his ability.

He played an important part in the south coast club’s famous 1-0 win over Liverpool at Anfield back in September and has helped put Mauricio Pochettino’s men on course to surpass the club’s previous highest EPL points tally of 52.

With three years remaining on his contract and surrounded by an impressive cast of talented footballers at St Mary’s, Wanyama’s career only appears to be heading in one direction.

And if his previous achievements are anything to go by, you can expect Kenya’s first EPL footballer to continue setting records for many years to come.

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