Allan Wanga, a die-hard Arsenal fun, has won trophies in almost all the clubs he has played for. He now wants to sign off with a bang at the club where it all started. But it has not always been fame and fortune for him. He experiences give him wisdom to share with aspiring players. Read on, about his ups and down, joys and pains, and more:
If you have been to Multimedia University, you will probably know the slow pace with which students respond to attending afternoon classes. Typically, the heat of the day is suffocating, students have just had their lunch and coupled with the long morning lessons, retiring to the halls of residence for an afternoon nap is the overwhelming feeling. Most do that before dragging themselves – reluctantly – to class.
However, it was a different case with the Bachelor of Journalism Print Class on this day. At least three quarters of the students were in class long before 2pm when the lesson is scheduled to begin.
Initially, I had had a chit chat with some of my classmates concerning the big interview we were going to have that afternoon with Allan Wanga. Everyone was excited. Eager students traversed the internet looking for any information on the man of the day. We literally skimmed through all past interviews about him. A journalist must always be prepared and checking for background information is vital part of the interview process, to be knowledgeable about the subject and to be able to ask informed questions.
Arriving in class, I found other students whispering among themselves while the lecturer was busy connecting a Bluetooth device to his phone. I sat at the front row and quickly turned to my neighbor: “Where is the guest?” I asked. She gave that I-don’t-know look that indicated that I shouldn’t ask any more questions. I thought that Wanga was probably running late given the nature of his profession.
However, my joy was short-lived when the lecturer, after greetings, announced that we were going to conduct the interview on phone. A wave of disappointed swept across the faces of the students. Our hearts were heavy with expectations only to be confronted with this. “Why can’t he come?” The lecturer proceeded to explain to us that Wanga was held up somewhere in Meru because his club had had a match the previous day. He said, it was the club’s policy not to travel by road overnight. That was understandable though not convincing enough for an interview that had been postponed previously. After a few technical hitches- Wanga was on the bus from Meru, where he made us understand that it was raining- the interview began on a slow pace but quickly progressed into a humorous, interactive session.
Winning a double
Kenyan international striker Wanga is widely known for his striking prowess that has seen him tour the African continent and beyond in a bid to do what he does best- play football. Wanga describes his talent and passion for football as in-born. Currently, he plays for Tusker FC; a team that he has had two incredible success stories with. First he helped the brewers win the 2007 Kenyan Premier League title when he was still a junior in the game.
After several years of playing outside the country, he moved back to Tusker mid last year where he again helped the club bag the 2016 league championship in addition to winning the KPL Tope Eight Knockout Trophy – a rare double in Kenyan football. The latter irked many K’Ogallo fans who found a new enemy in Tusker FC. He describes winning that double as the climax of his career.
Even with all the trophies under his name, Wanga’s football journey is a true testimony that hard work and discipline pays off. He says he started playing in the Kenyan Premier League by chance. His career officially began in 2007 when George Sunguti – a former AFC Leopards player- invited him to train with Ingwe. Unfortunately, he could not join the team because they had gone to Uganda for a match. <.p>
With the new turn of events, Sunguti requested the then Tusker FC coach to let Allan train with them. As luck would have it, the coach was impressed by the energy and skill the young man had and decided to keep him. That’s how he joined Tusker FC in 2007. His striking expertise saw him bang an impressive league high 21 goals that spurred Tusker FC to be crowned the champions that year while he scooped the Golded Boot gong besides getting the inevitable national team call up. This was a grand debut for the humble village boy who says he never imagined that he would ever play for Harambee Stars.
By the end of 2007, Wanga’s name rang not only in the Kenyan football scene but also across the African continent. His impressive performance left many clubs yearning for a piece of him.
In 2008, he signed a two-year deal with Angolan club Petro Atletico. He helped the side scoop the Angolan league title. He stayed with the team until 2010 when he signed a six months contract with Azerbaijan side FC Baku with which he also won a domestic cup. He later joined Sofapaka, briefly; where his striking prowess came in handy and helped ‘Batoto ba Mungu’ win the GOtv Shield Cup title in 2010.
He was quickly snatched away from Sofapaka by Hoang Anh Gia Lai of Vietnam on a two years contract. His 10 goals helped the team win the Super League title.
In 2012, Allan was signed by AFC Leopards on a loan deal that ran until the end of that year before officially joining the Ingwe ranks. He helped Ingwe lift the 2013 KPL title. He also played in the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup for Harambee Stars against Sudan where he scored two goals which helped Kenya beat Sudan at Nyayo Stadium.
Wanga’s goal scoring exploits must have impressed the Sudan’s El Merreikh scouts who started seducing him to join their side. Their efforts materialized in June 2014, when he signed a one year deal with the Khartoum-based club.
He describes his stay in Sudan as ‘kinda boring’ because of strict rules. “I would come from trainings and just watch movies because you can’t freely go out in Sudan like we do here in Kenya, and alcohol is prohibited. If you are found drinking beer you will be publicly flogged. But at the end of day it was my job and I had to obey the rules.” When asked if the tale being told that he tore a net while playing in Sudan is true, he laughs out loudly then replies: “Yes, I did but don’t ask me how I did it. I just shot and the ball tore the net.” His seven goals for El-Merreikh helped the team win the 2014 Cecafa Kagame Cup.
He later joined Tanzanian Azam FC where he bagged another Cecafa Kagame Cup before his move back to his roots, his home – Kenya with Tusker FC.
What of his future plans? Wanga happily says that he is in Tusker to stay. “My main plan this year is to help Tusker achieve its goal which is to retain the league title and win all trophies on offer. Thereafter, I will be done with football and start doing other things there.”
Wanga was part of the SportPesa All Stars team that played against a select Hull City side at Kingston Upon Hull in England early this year, an experience he describes as out of this world. ‘It was a good experience especially for the young players in the team. I pray and hope that such initiatives continue as they are useful in sharpening the skills of local footballers, and coaches.”
Grateful to the father
Unlike other footballers who are always quick to blow their own trumpet, Wanga humbly admits that he owes his success to his father Frank Wetende. He says his father was a force to reckon with in the Kenyan football scene the 1970s and 1980s. “My father played for AFC Leopards before I was born. He molded me into who I am today because he always tells me that he played football better than I do. I’m constantly challenged to do better to prove to him that I play better than him.” You can almost detect a smile at the end of that sentence. Wange says that his father has supported his football career since the beginning. His mother, meanwhile, wanted him to be a soldier.
On what is lacking in local football, he points out that Kenyans do not take football seriously like other countries. “There’s a lot of talent better than what we see on TV but no one is willing to nurture these talent.” <.p>
Coincidentally, Wanga and his wife Brenda, a renowned television journalist, were celebrating their eighth wedding anniversary on the day the interview was conducted. From his tone, I could tell that he couldn’t wait to arrive home. He says that their marriage was tough at the beginning when he was playing outside the country. “We had a long distance relationship for almost six years; it was not easy but I thank my wife for being understanding and supportive.”
And has his celebrity status or that of his wife been a challenge in their marriage? He quickly sets the record straight: “I am a husband and a father in my house not Allan Wanga the footballer, same to my wife. She is a wife and a mother and she knows her responsibilities.” He goes on to say that they are one of the best couples in Kenya. That just really warms your heart.
Not always smooth sailing
His career like many others has not been without challenges. In 2015, he together with his family were in involved in a tragic car crash on their way home from a family tour in Naivasha. That accident messed up his plans to go to South Africa on a career move. As if that wasn’t enough for the soft spoken father of two, his mother passed on 29 days later.
“That was the most difficult year of my life. I was very close to my mom. Her loss shook my career and it took me time to move on from that tragedy,” says Wanga. You can sense the sadness. Losing a mother is tough.
Besides football, he runs a pub in Ongata Rongai called ‘Terminal Three’ and a car hire business. For avid readers like me, a book has been written about Wanga titled Striking It High which he says was inspired by the need to encourage youths. “ I felt that my story was interesting, so as things kept unfolding in my career; I thought it would be good to share my story with young players who looked up to me as a role model.”
He says that he is a die-hard Arsenal supporter and would be glad to play for the Gunners if he had the opportunity “but I am now getting to the sunset of my career, maybe in another life. His role model is ex-France and Arsenal striker Thierry Henry.
Wanga’s parting shot to young players is work hard, be disciplined and put God first. “Always pray so that God can make your talent work for you.”
By Lilian Opiyo
Bachelor of Journalism final year student