A deceiving telephone conversation would become a convincing one. Graeme Souness took the bait. In 1996, on the recommendation of George Weah, he would sign Senegalese star Ali Dia.
But George Weah was in fact “George Weah” and there was no star in Ali Dia. In training, he looked off. When given his chance, he proved just how awful he was. That spurned that famous quote from Matt Le Tissier, “He ran around the pitch like Bambi on ice; it was very embarrassing to watch.”
Southampton had been embarrassingly hoaxed.
Not now however. They have just acquired the services of Victor Wanyama. Last season’s Young Player of the Year in the Scottish League is nothing like Ali Dia. Indeed, where Dia was an unknown, Wanyama is very much known. Ali Dia pupported to be George Weah’s cousin; Wanyama is brother to MacDonald Mariga whom in 2010 became a Champions League winner with Internazionale. Souness thought he was unearthing a diamond; Wanyama is a diamond who has been shining brightly for the green hoops of Celtic.
His ability is widely known. The Kenyan midfielder can play as a holding midfielder or as a box to box midfielder and occasionally, his attributes mean that he can also fill in at center back. His strength is massive, and his physique looks tailor made for the Premier League. He can also pass the ball around with ease and his forward runs have the ability to storm through packed defences.
In a way, he is the archetypal modern midfielder. Just some years ago, midfielders of his built were a dying breed. Their physical aspects rendered irrelevant by the fast passing of tiki taka. Now however, with tiki taka alerting everyone to technique, it seems that the advantage has once more become physicality.
And that is what Wanyama possesses. A robustness that is accompanied with finer technical aspects.
There is also no denying his pedigree. Captain of his national team, he has also put in sterling performances in his two years at Celtic that saw them lift the Scottish League on both occasions. His undying work rate meant that he was always a fan favourite, even at his former Belgian club Beerschot AC.
With minimal fuss, he just wants to play. A towering man like him seems like a gentle giant. Aptly, fans and fellow teammates refer to him as Big Vic.
His maturity was evident especially in last season’s Champions League. Not overawed by the occasion, he just set out to play. Against mighty Barcelona, his talents became illuminated, and he capped it off with a goal. Even against Juventus, his side may have lost but it was the way that he rarely let Andrea Pirlo have time and space on the ball that really caught the eye.
It is why in the January transfer window, he was subject to speculation from bids from the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool. That thus makes it explainable why he is Southampton’s record signing. A gem like this could not be prized away from Celtic easily.
As for Southampton on the other hand, it indicates a further step in the right direction. A club that 10 years ago was finishing runners up to Arsenal in the FA Cup has endured a tumultuous decade.
Debacle upon debacle had piled upon them, with relegation, administration, and further relegation accompanying their misery. But the leap from League One football to Premiership status came about due to successive promotions. Even then, not much was expected from the Saints and they were expected to go back down.
The appointment of Mauricio Pochettino midway through the season came in somewhat controversial manner – with sacked manager Nigel Adkins having seemingly steadied the ship. However, the Argentine turned the fortunes of the club around, ensuring that relegation was not a reality Southampton had to contend with.
However, as impressive as his showing was, it was worrying that Southampton’s displays against the top clubs could not be replicated when facing fellow relegation strugglers. The 3-1 wins against Liverpool and Manchester City, as well as a 2-1 win over Chelsea seemed to be points of fluke when in comparison to the losses suffered to Newcastle United and Queens Park Rangers.
It could be that Pochettino, a disciple of Bielsa, has a team that suffers from the same burn out that all Bielsista teams suffer from. With high pressing and an unrealistic insistence on ball possession, mistakes at the back and a lack of consistency become a feature due to lack of sustainability of the physical levels as well as the mental concentration required to implement the philosophy. Human limitations make Bielsism suffer.
Yet again, Pochettino does not practice the Bielsa-like principles as fundamentally as Bielsa, or Gerardo Martino at Newelll’s Old Boys – but his application still looks easy on the eye but nervy when it comes to League position.
It is why Wanyama will be a fit for Pochettino and Southampton. His robustness and charging will be effective when it comes to playing teams around them. He provides options beyond those of Adam Lallana and Morgan Schneiderlin. His athleticism will suit Southampton’s pressing, while his combativeness will mean more midfield battles will be won.
And, his drive will ensure that Southampton will be able to push forwards.
Wanyama may be foregoing Champions League football by leaving Celtic, but by joining Southampton, he is joining the Barclays Premier League which is a better league and a more marketable one. In that, he is making a forward step. Southampton will also hope that their record signing helps them make forward steps. It may not be the match made in heaven yet, but at the south coast of England, the Saints will hope to go marching on with Big Vic in their side.