By Chris Myson
It was a night Celtic fans will never forget. Beating Barcelona was an astonishing result for the Scottish Premier League champions and in the eyes of many; it was a match where a star was born in Victor Wanyama.
Wanyama was magnificent against the Catalan giants, heading home the opening goal and producing a superb all-round midfield display, with his tough tackling, energy and smart distribution of the ball all coming to the fore.
For more casual observers, the two games against Barca in the last fortnight will have been the first time they have seen or noticed the Kenyan, but in truth he has been impressing ever since he first signed for Celtic for just £900,000 from Belgian side Beerschot AC in 2011.
Neil Lennon’s side are desperate to tie him to a new contract, even with his current deal not due to expire until 2015, as they grow wary of interest from bigger clubs.
Premier League giants Arsenal and Manchester United are amongst the big guns who have scouted Wanyama and it is easy to understand, with their interest, why his agent is in no hurry to accept the Bhoys’ offer of fresh terms.
|CELTIC MAKE HISTORY
|Read our match report as goals from Wanyama & Tony Watt give Celtic an unbelievable 2-1 victory over Barcelona in Glasgow|
In truth, Wanyama would be an ideal signing for Arsenal or United – representing exactly the type of player both clubs are currently lacking in their squads.
The player may have had a £25 million price-tag slapped on his head by Lennon when the manager asked about a potential transfer, but in reality it is expected he would be allowed to leave for around half that figure.
Even though that is a few million pounds higher than it would have been before his and Celtic’s impressive Champions League campaign began, it still represents impressive value.
Wanyama performs best as a central midfielder, although he is also capable of playing in the centre of defence. He is a huge physical presence and impressive athlete, excelling in breaking up play, strong in the air and often representing the heartbeat of his side in midfield.
But he is not just a strong defensive midfielder. The Celtic man can play too, which is what makes him appear destined to reach the very top. His passing skills are good – he rarely loses the ball - and he possesses a lethal long-range shot.
It may seem rash comparing him to a player who is as complete and as decorated as Yaya Toure, but there are similarities between the two and that is the type of level Wanyama is capable of reaching.
At just 21, he still has enormous room to grow further. There are still areas of his game he needs to improve – occasionally he can switch off defensively and he needs to get himself into better positions off the ball, but all the raw credentials of a top-level player are already in place.
|"It may seem rash comparing him to a player who is as complete as Yaya Toure, but there are similarities between the two and that is the type of level Wanyama is capable of reaching"
One of the players Wanyama outshined against Barcelona was Alex Song, a player Arsenal have yet to properly replace after selling in the summer.
The fact the Gunners are missing injury-prone Abou Diaby as a physical presence in their midfield highlights just how short they are of options in that area, and a young, affordable talent like the Kenyan seemingly fits in with Wenger’s transfer policy.
| CHAMPIONS LEAGUE LATEST
|14/1||Celtic are 14/1 to win Champions League Group G with Paddy Power
But they are still missing a midfield general - an all-round, all-action player to take the game by the scruff of the neck, who will not let them get overrun or outmanoeuvred in the middle third. It is the type of player they have arguably lacked since Roy Keane’s departure and a void Wanyama is capable of filling.
Wanyama’s brother – McDonald Mariga – has been a Champions League winner with Inter and based on the Celtic midfielder’s career so far it is hard to imagine him not achieving the same honour as his sibling at some point in the future.
Celtic successfully rebuffed bids from QPR in the last transfer window, but you sense it will be a lot harder for them next time around when the bigger clubs come calling.
Ex-United full-back and Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville summed that up, saying after the match: “That wasn’t the performance of a 21-year-old. That display has put him right in the shop window and Celtic will do very well to hold on to him.”
Celtic will be desperate to keep their star man for the time being, particularly as they look to progress further in the Champions League. He is a key player who is under contract for another three years, which puts them in a strong bargaining position.
Deep down though, they will know that eventually Wanyama will be moving on and if Arsenal or Manchester United are not at the front of the queue, they will be making a big mistake.
Follow Chris Myson on