One thing Celtic have pioneered in recent seasons is signing players from areas of the globe generally overlooked by global scouts. Ambrose arrived from Nigeria, Izaguirre from Honduras and Wanyama from Kenya are the obvious examples but the club has been strong at signing players that others overlook. They have combined this by buying players from leagues which have – in recent years – been undervalued in the transfer market (most obviously but not exclusively Belgium and Israel)
The brightest example, and their finest player by some margin, is Wanyama. Indeed, only John Park – Celtic’s Football Development Manager – is more sought after by clubs around Europe.
For years, it has been easy to mock the achievements of players who do well in Scotland with the line of argument ”well, any idiot can excel against the dross up there”. This hasn’t been helped by many players moving from the SPL to the bench in the Premier League or the starting elevens of the Championship.
The most startling example is Carlos Cuellar. He has carved out a decent career in England but wouldn’t be considered as best defenders in the league. It was embarrassing how far ahead of the rest of Scotland football Cuellar was when he played for Rangers.
But back to the young Kenyan. Yes, he has shone against the teams of the Scottish Premier League but he has proved himself against the likes of Spartak Moscow, Benfica and Barcelona. Plenty of famous, and quality, midfielders have been outclassed by the men of Barcelona. Some, most obviously the sumptuous Michael Carrick, have suffered a form of mental disintegration against them. Wanyama more than held his own against the holy trinity of the Nou Camp.
Neil Lennon, the increasingly impressive manager of Celtic, said in October that Wanyama would cost a potential buyer £25m. This may seem unreasonably high but that would represent a return 27 times greater than Celtic paid for him.
It is unlikely that Celtic will receive that amount for a player who would clearly prefer to play in the English Premier League. A fee of over £10m would represent value for the buyer and a decent return for Celtic.
Consider that Ki Sung-Yeung transferred from Celtic to Swansea for £6m. Wanyama is a finer player, more versatile and a few years younger. Moreover, the clubs allegedly sniffing around him are bigger bruisers in the transfer market. Wanyama could well be the player that Manchester United fans have been hankering after and could add both silk and steel to Arsenal.
Wanyama is a player with a huge future. He is that astonishing, and rare mix, of a monstrously powerful player with a gentle touch and a keen eye. He is the fist in a velvet glove. He can play in defence or central midfield whilst also increasingly offering an attacking threat. I’m only surprised more English clubs aren’t bursting through Lennon’s door.
Scottish fans should feel blessed to have a player as grand as Wanyama playing in the league even if he can cause them pain. Celtic will be hurt by his loss but the likely fee will cushion that blow. They will get a huge fee for him which they will, inevitably, invest it in more players that the rest of the world are ignoring. They are increasingly becoming the Porto of the North.