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Victor Osimhen… boy who will be king

By Christian Okpara
12 March 2023   |   4:10 am
It is said that the greats start showing glimpses of their future greatness from their early strides. Many of the world’s great men and women grow to reckoning through efforts and paths they took in their growing up years.

[FILES] Napoli’s Nigerian forward Victor Osimhen celebrates after scoring his side’s third goal during the Italian Serie A footbal match between Napoli and Bologna on October 16, 2022 at the Diego-Maradona stadium in Naples. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

It is said that the greats start showing glimpses of their future greatness from their early strides. Many of the world’s great men and women grow to reckoning through efforts and paths they took in their growing up years.

According to experts, many are blessed with various talents, but only a few grow to achieve their potential by deliberately nurturing such talents to bloom. Such is true of Victor Osimhen, who was recently named Serie A’s Player of the Month for January.

The Nigerian, who plays for Italy’s Napoli, the club made popular by the legendary Diego Amando Maradona, had previously won the Goal of the Month award for his ferocious strike in Napoli’s 2-1 win against AS Roma.

Osimhen has scored a league-topping 19 goals in Serie A this season, six clear of Lautaro Martínez and seven ahead of Ademola Lookman.

The 24-year-old’s clinical form has helped propel Napoli to the league summit and forge a staggering 18-point lead over current runners-up Inter Milan – with the club on course to lift their first Scudetto in 33 years.

Such has been his phenomenal rise in the sport that he was on Monday, March 6, named winner of the 2022 prize for foreign athlete of the year in Italy. The winner of the award was announced in a statement by the Foreign Press Association in Italy, the organisers of the prize.

According to the statement, the 24-year-old Nigerian was given the prize because of his “fundamental to Napoli’s extraordinary success, thanks to his excellent play, great power, incredible speed and vocation for scoring goals.”

Osimhen was also named the ’emerging player of the year’ at the 2022 Globe Soccer Awards. He defeated Barcelona’s Gavi and Federico Valverde of Real Madrid for the prize meant for the best young football talent in the world.

These accolades in the young Nigerian’s career are testaments to the talent and dedication the former Lagos street boy has shown since he led the scorer’s chart at the Chile 2015 U-17 World Cup.

Unlike Manchester City’s Erling Halland, another precocious talent painting Europe red with goals, Osimhen tops his respective division for headed goals and touches in the opposition box, while his strike ratio of 19 goals from 35 shots on target underlines his clinical ability.

According to statistics, only Borussia Dortmund forward Giovanni Reyna divides Halland and Osimhen for goals per 90 minutes across Europe’s top five leagues this season – but the U.S. international barely enters the rankings with only 400 minutes played.

Such has been Osimhen’s influence this season that he has already started drawing comparisons with Gabriel Omar Batistuta, Didier Drogba and Cristiano Ronaldo.

One of his two goals recently against Spezia came with a header that saw the 24-year-old jump higher than Cristiano Ronaldo in 2019 when CR7 scored one of his most impressive goals for Juventus against Sampdoria.

While Osimhen’s form is good news for Napoli, for a country like Nigeria, which has been starved of a prolific marksman since the exit of the legendary Rashidi Yekini, it calls for optimism.

Nigerians have been dreaming of the return of the glory days of the country’s football when it dominated African football. Such dreams, which have often been nurtured by the exploits of the country’s youth teams in international competitions, often fail to materialise as the players fail to re-enact such feats at the senior level.

But the tide seems to be changing. WithOsimhen and his class of 2015 U-17 World Cup wining team, which also had Samuel Chukwueze and Kelechi Nwakali, Nigerians are beginning to dream of another crop of super stars bestriding African, nay world, football like the class of 1994 also known as the Golden Generation of Nigerian football.

That side had all the ingredients that make for a world-class team and justified their rating by winning the African Cup of Nations, Olympic Games gold medal and becoming the fifth best team in FIFA’s world ranking.

Such days may just be around the corner with Osimhen leading the charge.

Osimhen’s journey to stardom is not fortuitous. It is a result of a deliberate effort to utilise his talents to escape poverty.

Osimhen’s case is the classic from grass to grace story. The last born child in a family of seven children, he lost his mother at a very tender age of six and shortly after, his father also lost his job around that period.

To support his family, Osimhen took to hawking sachet water on the streets of Lagos when he just seven years old.

Victor Osimhen came from a very poor background; he was the last born in a family of seven children and lost his Mum at a very tender age of six and his dad also lost his job around that period.

Like so many young Nigerians, Osimhen did not allow his situation to stop him from realizing his football dream. His determination to excel started yielding fruits when scouts from Ultimate Strikers Academy enlisted him in their camp. It was while playing for the Lagos-based academy that national team scouts invited him to join the national U-17 team. Like so many of his mates in that team, Osimhen soon joined the Euro-train.

The 24-year-old striker, who journeyed from Germany’s VfL Wolfsburg to Napoli via Charleroi of Belgium and Lille in France, has not always had it so good in his career.

Osimhen came to public attention when he shot the Golden Eaglet to the FIFA U-17 World Cup title in Chile, winning the Golden Boot and Silver Ball in the process.

Such was his performance that many big European clubs courted him, but he chose the modest Wolfsburg, where he believed his talent would be better honed. But he did not have pleasant memories of his stint in Germany as he spent much of time there either on bench or on the treatment table.

He knew he needed a change of scene to keep his dream on, and so, he packed his bag to Belgium’s Sporting Charleroi, where the elements smiled on him. He started scoring goals.

The lad, whose name Osimhen means ‘God is good’ in his native Ishan dialect in Esan South East Local Government Area of Edo State, scored an impressive 12 goals in 25 Belgian First Division games and another seven in nine the UEFA Europa League soon started attracting attention once gain.

The biggest test of his fledgling career was perhaps his move from Charleroi to Lille in France, where he was brought in to replace Lique One’s highest goal scorer of the time, Nicolas Pepe, who had left for Arsenal.

It was supposed to be a daunting task for the Ultimate Strikers Academy product, but Coach Christophe Galtier, the longest-serving Ligue 1 manager, who was building a new project at Lille, knew he had a rare gem on his hands and went about moulding Osimhen into a deadly marksman.  And just after two seasons, the Ligue 1 player of the month for September 2019 and Lille player of the Season 2019-20 had done enough to convince Europe that his time has come. It was, therefore no surprise when Napoli paid 80 million euros to land the Nigerian.

In Europe, Osimhen is currently regarded as the best player in the Italian game, as well as the star capable of leading Napoli to their first Serie A title since the 1989/90 season. At home, he is seen as the boy on the way of becoming king of Nigerian football. But is he capable of reaching such exalted heights?

Super Eagles’ former forward, Tijani Babangida, believes Osimhen is everything they say he is, adding that the Napoli star is capable of breaking several boundaries if he continued working hard.

According to Babangida, who is currently the president of Professional Footballers Association of Nigeria (PFAN), “Osimhen is the rave of the moment in European football because he has shown that he has the skills to score and create goals. .

“But he has to continue working hard and face the challenges in European football head on.

“Very soon he will move to a bigger club with bigger expectations and pressure to excel from fans. So, he has to keep working hard, listen to those that had done it before him, which is very important. No matter how you look at it, Osimhen has the potential to become a great player.”

Former Super Eagles’ Defender, Ifeanyi Udeze, agrees with Babangida that this is Osimhen’s time to be in the limelight, but he advises the Napoli star to make good use of the opportunities that come his way.

“He needs to take things as they come and work hard to make the best use of his opportunities.

“The way he is going, he can win the African Footballer of the Year award, although it will be difficult because Nigeria did not play at the last World Cup.

“There are some Moroccan players that can also lay claims to that award, but Osimhen stands a good chance of winning it.”

On recent comparisons with the late Rashidi Yekini by some Nigerian football fans, Udeze said it is too early to start comparing the two. He added that they are two different players playing in different eras.

“Although Osimhen is doing well for his club, he has not done as much as Yekini for the Super Eagles to start comparing them. But I believe that if he continues working hard and stays injury free, he can make his own name in the team.

“To become an influential player in the national team, Osimhen also needs a goo midfield and strong defence to make for a well-blended team. Right now, all that are lacking in the national team.”

Another former national team defender, Chikelue Iloanusi, also agrees that this is Osimhen’s time to hug the limelight, adding, however, that he must be disciplined and dedicated to his craft to make the best use of his talent.

“Osimhen is the type of striker that disturbs defenders and keeps them on their toes throughout 90 minutes. That is why many big clubs in Europe want to recruit him.

“But he must now that there is a thin line between success and failure, and so, he must always strive to excel no matter the obstacles on his way.” The Anambra FA chairman, like Udeze, also believes that Osimhen’s talent can help make the Super Eagles great again. However, that can only happen, according to Iloanusi, if the coaches find a good blend of players in the other positions.

“At the last World Cup qualifier in Abuja against Ghana, you could see the fighting spirit and determination to win he displayed. We could not win because so many departments in the team were poor.

“If the coaches get the right mix in midfield and defence, I believe Osimhen can contribute to make the Super Eagles great again.”