A month after guiding Tottenham to a third place finish in the Premier League, Mauricio Pochettino strengthened his squad with the signing of Southampton midfielder Victor Wanyama last summer.
Pochettino had brought Wanyama to the Premier League from Celtic in 2013 and worked with him for a full season before leaving the Saints for Spurs the following summer.
Little was made of Wanyama’s arrival at White Hart Lane, perhaps as more glamorous signings were expected to follow, but it is always telling when a manager reunites himself with someone he had coached previously.
A further three permanent signings were added to Spurs’ squad in the summer transfer window, with Moussa Sissoko, Vincent Janssen and Georges-Kevin N’Koudou all coming in for a combined outlay of £59m.
However, while those three have struggled to provide much value for money in their debut seasons at the Lane, Wanyama has been worth every single penny of the £11m Spurs spent to acquire him, becoming an integral member of the side.
It was a ludicrously small fee for a proven Premier League performer. However, Southampton were backed into a corner by Spurs with Wanyama in the final year of his contract. In the end, Spurs secured his services for £1.5m less than Southampton had paid for him.
Based on his performances in a Spurs shirt, Wanyama’s valuation would be double what they paid for him, at the very least, or even in excess of the £30m mark. The £11m fee now looks like a daylight robbery.
While Everton’s capture of Idrissa Gana Gueye for a ridiculously low £7.1m is certainly in contention for being the best pound-for-pound signing. The fact that Wanyama moved to a title-challenging team and improved them demonstrates why he is the biggest bargain of last summer.
How Wanyama’s impact compares to other central midfield signings last summer
All of the top six Premier League sides strengthened their central midfield options in the summer.
League leaders Chelsea spent £32.5m to sign PFA Player of the Year N’Golo Kante from Leicester City, Manchester City signed Ilkay Gundogan for £21m from Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal landed Granit Xhaka for £35m from Borussia Monchengladbach, Manchester United shelled out a world record £89m on Paul Pogba and Liverpool snapped up Georginio Wijnaldum from Newcastle United for £25m.
Of those signings, Kante has been the most successful, Gundogan started brightly before succumbing to injury, Xhaka has impressed in spells but largely disappointed, Pogba has become United’s key player and Wijnaldum has slotted into Liverpool’s system nicely.
However, all five cost significantly more than Wanyama, who with perhaps the exception of Kante, has made the biggest impact at his new club, showing just how savvy a move it was from Pochettino and Spurs’ chairman Daniel Levy.
What is more impressive about Wanyama’s form is that when he signed it was generally assumed that he would be restricted to a bit-part role in the squad, as Mousa Dembele and Eric Dier had formed an excellent partnership there the previous season.
However, with both Dembele and Dier joining up with Spurs’ pre-season late after representing Belgium and England respectively at Euro 2016, Wanyama had his chance to stake a claim for regular football.
He clearly made a strong impression on the coaching staff during those summer months, as by the time the first game of the season rolled around he was in the starting XI – a position he has held onto ever since.
In fact, prior to a recent injury layoff that forced him to miss matches against Swansea City and Watford, Wanyama had started in all 29 of Spurs’ Premier League games. After his 12-minute cameo return against Bournemouth last month, Wanyama was named in the starting line-up for both of Spurs’ next two league fixtures, against Crystal Palace and Arsenal.
The latter performance in the North London derby was arguably his finest performance in a Spurs shirt to date and encapsulated why he is such an integral figure to his team.
Victor Wanyama's game by numbers vs. Arsenal:
88% pass accuracy
3 chances created
Immense display. pic.twitter.com/kyF7kqIwgN
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 30, 2017
Why is Wanyama so important to Spurs?
Wanyama is an absolute man mountain, standing at over six-feet tall and weighing in at just under 14 stone, and wouldn’t look out of place as a flanker in a Rugby Union game.
Given his sheer size, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that he has been Spurs’ chief ball-winner in the Premier League this term, making 57 successful tackles.
However, while Wanyama is adept at the defensive side of the game, looks can be deceiving; the Kenyan has much more to his game than just bullying opponents with sheer force.
Positionally, he’s extremely aware and seemingly always in the right place to stop opponents attacking moves from developing further as shown by the fact that he has made 38 interceptions, again the most in Spurs’ squad.
He leads the way for passes completed in Spurs’ squad with 1,492 and while many have been short and simple layoffs to more technically gifted teammates, he is fifth for chances created on 31.
Another aspect of his game that often goes unnoticed is his ball-carrying quality (perhaps because he plays alongside the Premier League’s best central midfield dribbler, Mousa Dembele) as he has succeeded with 40 take on attempts, more than Heung-min Son, Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen.
Statistics-aside, Wanyama’s presence in Spurs’ engine room has enabled Pochettino to alternate between a 4-2-3-1 and a 3-4-2-1 formation, safe in the knowledge that he will act as the glue holding everything together in the middle.
Sure, there have been more exciting signings in the Premier League over the past 12 months but when it comes to the best value acquisition, there simply hasn’t been anyone better than Spurs’ No.12.