Victor Wanyama is feeling rejuvenated at CF Montreal.
The club’s designated player — whose resume includes 154 English Premier League appearances — is training with a smile on his face again after falling out of favour with former head coach Hernan Losada last season.
"I'm starting to feel back to myself again, being happy with my teammates,” Wanyama said from Montreal’s training camp in Kissimmee, Fla. "That's something that was difficult last season but now it's back, I'm happy again to be on the pitch."
Under Losada, the 32-year-old midfielder from Kenya started once and came on as a substitute twice in the final nine games as Montreal struggled down the stretch in Major League Soccer.
The club earned six out of a possible 27 points in a late-season slide and missed the playoffs on the final day of the regular season. Wanyama said after the season he expected something to change with the team struggling, but never got an explanation for why he was left aside — something Losada denied.
Montreal hired head coach Laurent Courtois to succeed Losada this off-season. He’ll be the man in charge as Wanyama enters the final year of his contract.
So far, Wanyama likes what he sees.
"He's very clear with what he wants,” he said. “He wants to just make everybody better. That's one of the biggest assets that he brings. He wants to make everybody better, and he's really focused on small details, which is really good as well."
Courtois said 10 days ago he was impressed with Wanyama’s professionalism.
“It's a beautiful lesson in humility that he gives me,” he said.
Despite the coaching change, Wanyama will still have to fight for his spot in the starting 11 on a club with several options in midfield.
Possibilities in defensive midfield include Wanyama, captain Samuel Piette and Ilias Iliadis. Youngsters Mathieu Choinière (24), Bryce Duke (22) and Nathan Saliba (19) are also options in central midfield.
“There's a lot of players that are going to be in competition,” Courtois said. “(Even with) his amazing career and his good first few weeks of training, he's going to be in competition with everybody else."
Montreal has loaded up with new talent recently, introducing a sense of optimism to this upcoming season after last year’s showing — where the club scored a fourth-worst 36 goals all season.
The team added Bulgarian-Canadian attacking midfielder Dominik Iankov from Bulgarian first-division club Ludogoretz Razgrad and Uruguayan striker Matias Coccaro from first-division Argentine side CA Huracan last week.
The Athletic also reported last Thursday that Montreal is nearing a deal to sign former MLS MVP Josef Martinez. Photos of Martinez arriving at the Montreal-Trudeau airport surfaced on social media later that night, though Courtois said Monday he had “no comment” on the player.
Although Wanyama didn’t address the Martinez rumours, he chose to clear the air on an altercation the two players had years ago.
With Atlanta United visiting Montreal in MLS action on Aug. 4, 2021, Martinez and Wanyama got into a pushing and shoving match. At one point Wanyama grabbed Martinez’s neck and both players received red cards.
Wanyama says that’s water under the bridge.
"I think he did something to the ‘keeper and I was trying to protect my keeper and in that moment, everything got heated," he said. "But that is in the past and we went on and we played against each other and we were cool, we laughed about it."
"If it happens one day that we are in the same team,” he added, “I will fight for him, nobody touch him. Nobody's touching my teammates."
CF Montreal takes on Atlanta in pre-season action Wednesday at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Fla., followed by another exhibition against Colorado Rapids on Saturday at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Bay Lake, Fla.
OFFOR ON LOAN
Montreal announced Monday that striker Chinonso Offor will join Bulgarian first-division club FC Arda Kardzhali on loan until the end of the 2024 season, with an option to buy.
Offor started 14 games and scored four goals for Montreal in 2023.
Montreal acquired the 23-year-old Nigerian from Chicago Fire on Aug. 5, 2022, for US$325,000 in general allocation money.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2024.
Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press