Victor Wanyama: A force to be reckoned with
Celtic midfielder has been outstanding and will be key to their hopes of beating Juventus
Sunday 10 February 2013
Celtic cannot escape the scrutiny. Their involvement in the Champions' League has been intoxicating, and the win over Barcelona in Glasgow in the group stages last November brought an unprecedented level of attention. Soon after the 2-1 victory, the manager, Neil Lennon, received a phone call at his home from Sir Elton John who had been so moved by the achievement that he felt compelled to offer his personal congratulations.
There have been other high-profile encounters, and Lennon has received assistance and advice from several leading figures within the game ahead of their last-16 tie against Juventus on Tuesday. But not all of the attention is welcome.
English teams now covet several of the Celtic players. Peter Lawwell, the chief executive, was prepared to turn down offers of more than £6 million from Norwich City for the striker Gary Hooper during last month's transfer window, while Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United have been closely monitoring Victor Wanyama. Sir Alex Ferguson, who visited Celtic's training ground last August for a chat during which Lennon absorbed several pieces of guidance about coping with the demands of Europe's elite competition, watched the midfielder in person last month.
Few onlookers can fail to notice the physical and technical prowess of the 21-year-old. Against Barcelona, in particular, Wanyama was such a dominant figure that the aristocrats of this generation of footballers were briefly forced out of prominence. Celtic could afford to be adamant last month because the club is financially sound and all but guaranteed to win the title for the three years that it will take Rangers, at a minimum, to return to the top flight after last year's insolvency saga resulted in the Ibrox club playing in the Third Division this season.
Even so, the cash and the glamour of the Champions' League does not make Celtic immune from transfer interest. The club's policy is to recruit signings from under-utilised markets and sell them at a profit. Some of the players join in the anticipation of an eventual move to a higher level, although few clubs in Britain can match the passion and intensity of the Celtic Park crowd and the adulation that comes, from one half of Glasgow at least, with succeeding in a city that is obsessed with football.
In return, Celtic will bank significant profits – Wanyama cost only £900,000 from the Belgian club Beerschot AC and will move for more than £10m – but also cherish some outstanding displays.
"He brings strength, power and he reads the game very well," Lennon said of Wanyama. "He is quick across the ground and is a very technical player. He has a goal in him too – he has eight or nine this season and is a real threat from set-pieces. As you could see from his performances against Barcelona, he rises to the occasion. He found an extra five yards of pace from somewhere when he was breaking away from Xavi and [Andres] Iniesta. He will be very important [against Juventus]."
The manager has no wish to see his best players depart, but English clubs can afford to pay more lucrative wages. Wanyama was 19 when he joined Celtic and he is understood to earn less than some of the Rangers players in the Third Division. He was offered a much more rewarding contract, but turned it down earlier this season. There is nothing untoward in his actions, since he has developed as a player at Celtic and the club will be well rewarded for their faith in his talent.
Wanyama has spoken to his brother, McDonald Mariga, who plays for Internazionale, about the prospect of facing Juventus, but there is little chance of him being overawed.
In every sense, the 6ft 2in midfielder provides an intimidating presence. Lennon has deployed him at centre-back on occasion, and is toying with the idea of playing a back three against Juventus, but that would rob his midfield of its outstanding figure.
"[McDonald Mariga] knows Juventus and that they are a good team but he says nothing is impossible, anybody can win," Wanyama said. "For me, beating Juve would be a bigger step than beating Barcelona because at this stage it would be a massive bonus for us and give us the chance to go to another level of the Champions' League."
No Scottish side has reached the last eight of the Champions' League, in its current format, and Celtic will not be daunted. "We are at home. We have to try and think how we can score a goal," said Lennon. "So long as we don't concede, anything can happen in Turin."
Celtic's famous Euro nights
May 1967 Celtic won the European Cup final 2-1 with a swashbuckling display that overwhelmed Internazionale.
April 1970 European Cup semi-final crowd of 136,505 saw Celtic beat Leeds in the greatest of all the Battles of Britain, in Glasgow.
May 2003 Defeat in the Uefa Cup final to Porto hardly dampened the spirits of the 80,000 Celtic fans.
Nov 2006 Celtic beat Manchester United to reach the last 16 of the Champions' League for the first time.
Oct 2007 European champions Milan fell to a Scott McDonald winner.
Nov 2012 Celtic Park was raucous as the Barcelona of Xavi, Iniesta and Messi were beaten 2-1.
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