For some people, getting their first pair of football boots is as memorable a childhood moment as their first kiss. In Victor Wanyama’s case, it is easy to understand why. Growing up in Kenya was hard. Wanyama lived in a shack in Nairobi, his parents were too poor to buy him boots and when he started playing football with his friends in the street, he was forced to do so with bare feet.
It was a character-building education for the player, one that should leave no one under any illusions that he possesses the fortitude to handle the pressure of joining Southampton for £12.5m from Celtic this summer. Yet although he dreamed of playing against the biggest teams in the world one day, first he needed to get his gifted feet in those elusive boots. The problem, though, was his family’s lack of money. To get what he wanted, Wanyama had to earn it.
“In Africa, in general, when a lot of young boys start playing football they don’t start with boots,” he says. “I think a lot of great players in Africa started with bare feet. I think now things are changing and it’s easier for young players to start playing with boots because there are a lot of sponsors and a lot of people who are willing to provide them.
“When I was young we went for a tournament and I was playing in the tournament barefoot. I won my first boots there and that’s when I also started playing in them. I was about 11.” Inevitably Wanyama remembers them. “They were yellow Puma boots,” he says, with a smile. It takes the 22-year-old a while to smile. Wanyama is shy at first, apparently gripped by nerves in the face of the camera’s glare, which is strange, given he is Kenya’s captain, and his softly spoken answers feel glib and reveal little.