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Wanyama shows Kenya isn’t just about running

Since the launch of this column last October, we’ve been to almost every region on the continent. This week we are in East Africa for the first time, where we feature a rare football talent from Kenya.



Ask any sports fanatic in the world to randomly name a world-class Kenyan sportsperson, and they are more likely, even in their deepest slumber, to mention one of the great distance runners  (past of present) from the East African country.

Wilson Kipketer, Paul Tergat, Noah Ngeny, Tegla Loroupe, Mary Keitany, amongst others, the list of Kenya’s world beaters on the running track is endless.

Pioneering Kenyan

Ask the most diversified fan, though, and chances are pretty high too that they will, instead, evoke the name of Victor Wanyama, the first Kenyan to play in arguably the best football league in the world.


To come from a place where long-distance running is so dominant on the world stage so as to be almost synonymous with the country itself, and then to prosper in a different sport at no less an English football club like Tottenham Hotspur, makes Wanyama a unique sporting talent from the capital country of long-distance running.

Kenya’s rugby sevens team is also quite a handful on the international circuit, their fullest potential shown by winning a historic first-ever World Sevens Series title in Singapore last year, but Wanyama could still be regarded as the rare breed of Kenyan sport by exhibiting his talents in the glamorous world of English top-flight football.

Firm favourite at White Hart Lane

Wanyama joined Spurs at the beginning of the current season from fellow Premiership side Southampton.

His move into English football broke a record: his transfer fee of 12.5 million pounds from Celtic to Southampton was the highest ever paid to a Scottish club for a player.


Read: Overcoming tragedy: The story of Victor Moses

A defensive midfielder of many qualities, the 25-year-old Kenyan star has settled well at the London club and has quickly established himself as a darling of the club’s fans.

A leader of men

At only 25, Wanyama is the captain of his national team, and has already amassed over 40 caps for the Harambee Stars.

Wanyama playing for Celtics. Photo: Memorino/Wiki commons

He started his career back home in Kenya with top-flight sides Nairobi City Stars and AFC Leopards.

His first major breakthrough was in 2007 when he moved over to Helsingborg in Sweden. There he teamed up with his brother McDonald Mariga.


Soon his brother would be signed by Serie A side Parma the following year, upon which Wanyama returned home to Kenya.

Read: African footballers and the question of patriotism

He was back in Europe few months later with Belgian side Beerchot AC on a four-year contract.

Then in 2011 Wanyama’s full potential was beginning to emerge. That year, Celtic signed him from Beerschot for 900 000 Euros in a move that ruffled feathers.

Cool and calculated, he has been described as a “calming influence” by former Spurs defender Ledley King.


“In his first season here Victor has been one of our best players and already a fans’ favourite,” King told Tottenham’s official website.

“He’s been great. He’s so strong, wins the ball back, he can play and is a calming influence on the team as well.”

Sporting family

Noah Wanyama, the Spurs star’s father, was also a footballer in Kenya for AFC Leopards in the 1980s.

Besides McDonald Mariga, his other brothers, Thomas and Sylvester Wanyama, are also footballers.


His sister Mercy is a professional basketball player in the United States, the talent certainly runs deep in the Wanyama family.