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Could Victor Wanyama have a key role to play in Tottenham Hotspur’s run-in?

21:49 GMT+3 08/03/2019
Victor Wanyama of Tottenham Hotspur
The Kenya powerhouse has dropped down the pecking order in North London, but can he still salvage his Spurs career?
Victor Wanyama’s Tottenham Hotspur career has become one of frustration and failed potential.

The Kenya powerhouse quickly won over the Spurs supporters after joining from Southampton in June 2016, immediately defying suggestions that he might have been recruited as a squad player.

Here was a player who had been handpicked by Mauricio Pochettino to join him in North London from the south coast, and who that Argentinian coach clearly saw as a key component in his remodelling of the Lilywhites.

Wanyama scored a winner against Crystal Palace on his home debut—a surefire way to win a few admirers—and proceeded to enjoy a solid campaign in the heart of the park for the capital club.

He featured 36 times in the league during the 2016-17 season, scoring a further three goals, while also proving his quality with the ball at his feet.

Few could have predicted that the time that this would be as good as it ever got for the East African at the club.

Since the start of the 2017-18 season however, injuries have taken their toll; a lack of gametime has meant a lack of sharpness, both technically and with regards to the anchor man’s ongoing fitness.

His PL starts last season had dropped from 35 to eight, while he managed a further 10 appearances off the bench to amass 839 playing minutes in total.

This term, after again picking up a pre-season knee injury, his influence has waned further still.

Victor Wanyama | First Tottenham Hotspur season stats

To date, he’s featured just six times in the top flight, with only two appearances coming from the start.

While injuries have been the key reason for Wanyama’s inactivity this term, Pochettino’s apparent unwillingness to use him more regularly could appear strange considering Tottenham’s current squad.

Notably, the two-time English champions have gone two transfer windows without recruiting, and have let both Josh Onomah (on loan) and Mousa Dembele (permanent) leave within the last 12 months.

This has left Spurs stretched.

Academy graduate Harry Winks has stepped up to the plate, at least before being laid low with a hip problem, while Moussa Sissoko’s stock has risen after he was restored to a central role.

Beyond those two, however, options have been limited, particularly considering Dele Alli’s hamstring problems and Eric Dier’s recent struggles with tonsilitis.

Youngster Oliver Skipp has been drafted into action, although he’s still at a particularly early stage of his development.

Pochettino’s enduring faith in Wanyama, despite his toil of late, was evident last weekend when the Kenya international started Saturday’s North London Derby.

Remarkably, it was the 27-year-old’s first start since he featured for 90 minutes in the 1-0 victory at Crystal Palace in November, and he lasted for an hour before being replaced by Erik Lamela.

Wanyama | 2018-19 Premier League stats

It wasn’t Wanyama at his best—he hasn’t been that for a long time—and noticeably, the game passed the midfielder by at times.

He had yet to make a tackle, an interception or a clearance by the time he was withdrawn, while his use of the ball often left a lot to be desired.

“This was my first start for a very long time and it’s a tough game to come into,” the East African admitted to Spurs’ official channels after the match, “but I had to go in and get on with the game.

“Just getting the start and being back in the team, it gave me a lot of confidence,” he added, “and from today I can only be positive.”

Yet Wanyama has demonstrated in the past that he requires time and momentum to rediscover the form that once convinced Spurs to part with £11 million to recruit him.

Having been given a start in such a prominent match, and with a series of high-profile fixtures on the horizon, there can be hope that there may yet be life in Wanyama’s Tottenham career.

There were rumours about a potential exit in January, and a summer departure had begun to seem increasingly likely given the midfielder’s peripheral role in the squad.

Now, he has a late-season opportunity to resurrect his career in London.

While the title may have escaped Spurs, they’re certainly in a battle to retain their spot in the top four…particularly with some tricky fixtures on the horizon.

Similarly, they’re still fighting on multiple fronts, with Pochettino’s troops advancing to the Champions League quarter-final at the expense of Borussia Dortmund in midweek.

Considering the open field in Europe’s premier club competition this term, Spurs may feel that they will never have a better chance to win the UCL.

Wanyama will surely have the opportunity to prove that he can still do what he does best—command a midfield and protect the back four—in some of the high-profile bouts the Lilywhites have ahead of them.

Even if he’s not used as a starter, but merely as a substitute to bolster Spurs in the heart of the park, offer presence and tenacity, and help them see out contests, he could yet have a massive role to play between now and the season’s end.

After 18 months in the doldrums, Wanyama may finally have an opportunity to revive his Tottenham career, and remind supporters just why he earned their affection during those heady early days at White Hart Lane.