Victor Wanyama has Celtic history on his back – and wants far more than Lionel Messi's shirt

Talented Kenyan wears No 67 as tribute to the Lisbon Lions and will be no 'tourist' at Nou Camp

Barcelona

When Kenyan midfielder Victor Wanyama signed for Celtic last season from Belgian side Beerschot and decided to become the first player to commemorate the year the Lisbon Lions lifted the European Cup by wearing No 67 on his back, it was a gamble. Fail to perform and never would the phrase "letting the shirt down" have been more apt.

What followed was such an impressive first campaign that there was a firm £8.5m bid from Queen's Park Rangers in the summer and bigger clubs have continued to monitor his progress this season.

Tonight the wide open spaces of the Nou Camp await; with the shadows of the world's greatest midfielders ready to be chased. Wanyama at least has a manager and mentor who has been there, done that and come out as a winner.

Neil Lennon was part of the Celtic team in 2004 that beat Barcelona 1-0 with an Alan Thompson goal at Celtic Park on the way to knocking them out of the Uefa Cup.

Speaking of Lennon, who admitted last night that Barcelona have "gone to another level since that meeting eight years ago", Wanyama said: "He is the perfect coach for me. He played in my position and I have learned so much from him in terms of my positioning on the pitch and the runs I have to make. I know my responsibilities but I am encouraged to attack the space in front of me if it opens up as well."

That was the case against Spartak Moscow earlier this month when Celtic ended a run of 21 away games in Europe without a win. Wanyama's surging run from deep helped open up the home side's defence for Gary Hooper to score the first goal in the 3-2 win. He got two more at the weekend in Celtic's 5-0 victory at St Mirren, making him the club's top scorer in the Scottish Premier League with four league goals – not many defensive midfielders can make that claim.

Will he be limited to tracking Lionel Messi tonight? "It's not a case of man-marking one player; they have so many great players. If selected I will have to look after whoever comes into my space and we have to try to get forward too."

It has all happened very quickly for the brother of Internazionale's McDonald Wanyama. The pair are Kenya's first Champions League representatives and the homeland will be watching tonight's game. "The match will kick off at 9.45pm local time so all the bars and cafés will be full – everybody has been looking forward to these two ties ever since the draw was made," he said. "Benfica at home has probably been the biggest of my career until now, but this will top that."

It also represents another chance for those watching Premier League clubs to see how Wanyama copes on the big stage. There is still some distance between player and club as Celtic look to tie him down beyond the end of next season.

 



Premier League scouts will also have watched Hooper impress against Spartak by scoring Celtic's first goal, making the second and playing a part in the third. Wanyama agrees it is surprising that England – with the current dearth of strikers gaining regular Champions League experience – have not taken too much interest.

"It is," said Wanyama. "I am sure he would fit well into the current England set-up. But he knows if he keeps playing the way he has been then it will only be a matter of time."

Teams visiting the Nou Camp are often accused of being overly awestruck by their surroundings, not to mention their rivals, taking stadium tours before the game and looking for shirt swaps as early as half-time. Wanyama echoed his manager's sentiment, expressed yesterday, that Cetic were "not here as tourists".

The Celtic midfielder added: "We are here for football reasons and there is nothing else on our minds. Celtic is one of the biggest clubs in the world with a history in this competition and we have a responsibility to do justice to that."

And of jersey swaps at the end of the game, the man wearing No 67 added: "I haven't even thought about whose shirt I might want. If I end up with Messi's, then fine – but getting the ball off him during the game will be far more important."

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Kellie Bright as Linda Carter and Danny Dyer as Mick Carter

EastEnders Christmas specials are known for their shouty, over-the-top soap drama but tonight the show has done itself proud thanks to Danny Dyer.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy
tvCall the Midwife Christmas Special
Sport
Laura Trott and Jason Kenny are preparing for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow
sport
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth with Tess Daly in the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special
tvLouis Smith wins with 'Jingle Bells' quickstep on Strictly Come Dancing's Christmas Special
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there