The star power of Thierry Henry is already paying dividends for the Montreal Impact.
New designated player Victor Wanyama signed a three-year deal with Montreal on Tuesday on a free transfer from Tottenham Hotspur of the English Premier League.
The 28-year-old defensive midfielder admits he could not resist the appeal of playing for a high-profile coach like Henry, a former soccer superstar whose career includes high-profile stints Barcelona, Arsenal and the French national team.
“It was easy for me,” said Wanyama at Wednesday’s introductory news conference. “He’s the best manager for me. He understands the game very well. I thought I could learn from him, what he’s achieved and the career he’s had. It’s just a no-brainer to want to work with him.
“He made it clear to me what the project is, and what he wants. It was very clear for me to come here and join the team.”
Impact sporting director Olivier Renard began discussions with Tottenham last week, knowing Wanyama fell out of favour under new coach Jose Mourinho. He played only 24 minutes in two Premier League appearances this season, both off the bench.
Once that initial contact was made, Renard’s recruitment tactic was putting Wanyama directly in touch with Henry.
“It would be crazy not to use everything Thierry Henry has to offer,” Renard said. “High-level players like Victor know what kind of career he’s had. It’s important for them to speak to him. His name is awfully helpful when it comes to attracting players.”
The six-foot-two Wanyama is a big-bodied midfielder, very physical, strong on the ball and a good dribbler. He becomes the Impact’s second designated player after central midfielder Saphir Taider.
Wanyama comes to Major League Soccer with more than a decade of experience in Europe’s top leagues.
He played three seasons in Belgium, two in Scotland with Celtic and another three with Southampton in the Premier League. He joined Spurs in 2016 where he made 97 appearances for the North London club.
Wanyama is also the captain of Kenya’s national team, scoring seven goals in 56 caps.
“I bring passion,” he said. “I love the game. I love helping my teammates. I bring fight. I’m willing to do everything to get the win. On the pitch, I demand a lot because I love to win.”
That mentality and top-flight experience could be bad news for Canadian international Samuel Piette, who plays the same defensive mid position. Unless Henry makes a formation change, Piette may find himself relegated to a depth role.
Wanyama took part in his first training session on Wednesday morning where he impressed his new teammates. There was one familiar face in Luis Binks, a former Tottenham academy player who joined Montreal two weeks ago.
“It’s a very good addition to the team,” the 18-year-old Binks said. “You see what he has done at Tottenham and at Southampton in the Premier League. It’s a big name and a big player to come.
“He can bring a lot of physicality, a lot of experience. He’s also good on the ball. You could see today in training how calm he is on the ball.”
The main drawback to signing Wanyama, especially to a three-year contract, is the midfielder’s recurring knee injuries over the past three seasons. But Renard says the team’s medical staff gave the green light.
It’s unclear when the Kenyan international will make his Impact debut though. He is still waiting for his visa papers.
“I can’t wait for the papers to be ready,” said the designated player. “I didn’t play for a bit of time but I’ve been training hard. I’m physically fit. I leave the rest to the manager. My job is just to work hard and impress him.”