Victor Wanyama's search for happiness in Montreal postponed by the pandemic

Victor Wanyama says management at his former club Tottenham Hotspur F.C. frustrated him to the point he started to lose his passion for the game. He's hoping for a fresh start in Montreal.

Kenyan soccer player is helping fight COVID-19 at home, staying fit in anticipation of Impact debut

Victor Wanyama, centre, made his debut for the Montreal Impact in leg one of the CONCACAF Champions league quarterfinal versus C.D. Olimpia on March 10, only days before the team ceased operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Montreal Impact)

Running sprints alone up a stairwell in his condo building isn't exactly how Victor Wanyama pictured things would be a month into his time in Montreal.

But the Impact's newest designated player is trying to make the best out of an unprecedented situation.

"It's been tough, I just moved in and I haven't even had a chance to get to know the city well. Everything happened so fast," Wanyama said.

The 28-year-old Kenyan signed with Montreal March 3, played his first game March 10 — a 2-1 loss to C.D. Olimpia in leg one of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal — and the club shut down its operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic after practice March 12.

Since then, he's been trying to stay in shape and building bonds with his new teammates online.

He's also focused on helping fight against the spread of COVID-19 in his home country.

Last week, he sent sanitizing kits to families who live in the Mathare slums of Nairobi through his foundation.

"The people who are back home living in the ghettos are being told to stay at home, but they have nothing to eat. So I tried to reach out and tried to give what I can give," Wanyama said.

"They are grateful and they are good people."

Wanyama broke barriers for Kenyan soccer

Victor Wanyama's soccer prowess was evident at a young age.

He debuted on the Kenyan national team in 2007, when he was only 15, and he's been breaking down barriers ever since.

Wanyama celebrates after the African Cup of Nations group C soccer match between Kenya and Tanzania. (Ariel Schalit/The Associated Press)

When he was playing for Glasgow side Celtic FC, he became the first Kenyan to score a goal in the UEFA champions league. When he first suited up for Southampton FC in 2013, he became the first person from Kenya to play in the English Premier League.

Kenyans took pride that one of their own was good enough to play in the English Premier League, so Wanyama says some of his supporters were confused about his decision to scrap the remainder of the five-year contract he signed with Tottenham Hotspur FC in June 2016 to come to play for Montreal.

"Most of them understood that I needed to get my happiness back and the only way to get my happiness back was to come and enjoy playing football again," Wanyama said.

"I was frustrated with how I was treated [at Tottenham] and it was bad," Wanyama said.

"I lost a little bit of passion. For me to lose passion? I'm the guy that loves the game. I was so frustrated and I just wasn't happy."

Wanyama's falling out with Tottenham predated José Mourinho

Contrary to what some onlookers have suggested, Wanyama says the Hotspur new manager José Mourinho was not the source of his falling out with his former club.

Mourinho, who was hired in November 2019, is a decorated manager with several championships to his credit. He also has a reputation for having a fiery personality, which can be tough on his players.

"The first thing [Mourinho] told me, he was wondering why I wasn't playing. I have to be playing. The problem wasn't with the coach if you ask me. The problem was a little bit upstairs and they didn't give me a chance," Wanyama said.

Tottenham's manager José Mourinho has a reputation of being fiery, but Wanyama doesn't believe the coach was the problem. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/The Associated Press)

Wanyama believes his rift with upper management started when he began having issues with his knee in 2017.

After he recovered from the injury and was ready to return to action, he said it felt like an order had come down to keep him from getting back on the pitch.

"I was not given the chance to come back," Wanyama said.

"They tried to frustrate me. They gave me one game after four months, or three months, so it was a little bit tough."

Wanyama said he offered to move to the reserve team to prove he was able to play at the same level he did before the injury, but the club wasn't interested.

"I was frustrated. I wanted to get my happiness back, my football happiness back. That's when the manager here, Thierry [Henry] called me and asked if I wanted to play. And I said yes."

He said the Impact's sporting director, Olivier Renard, sold him on his plan to build a team around young players. That, combined with a person of Henry's pedigree leading the team, sealed the deal.

Building team chemistry while isolated

Wanyama says oddly enough, being stuck in isolation due to the pandemic has brought him and his new teammates closer together.

A few times per week, they join each other on apps such as Zoom or FaceTime to catch up and hang out.

"It's a great thing to do, to have that bond and be a team even though we can't be together at this time," Wanyama said.

Of course, he's anxious to get back on the pitch with his team and to play his first game at Saputo Stadium, but for now there is no timeline in place to return to action.

On Thursday, the MLS extended its moratorium on training until at least April 24. The Impact's opening game at Saputo Stadium was set for April 18 so it will have to be rescheduled.

In the meantime, Wanyama says he will continue running the stairs, from the eighth floor up to the 46th floor of his building, trying to stay fit and ready for the big day.

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