Victor Osimhen: From street hawker in Lagos to football king in Europe
When French clubside, Lille, sold two of their players, Nicolas Pepe and Rafael Leao, in the summer transfer, fans feared their club would find it difficult to get a good replacement: But the arrival of Nigerian young star, Victor James Osimhen, has changed things for the modest European clubside.
Since the beginning of the season, Osimhen has been one of Europe’s hottest players, scoring great goals and accolades.
Osimhen, who is just 20 years old, has six Ligue 1 goals to his credit this season. On Wednesday, he established himself as one of the young players to watch in Europe this season, when he scored a UEFA Champions League goal in their 1-2 defeat to Chelsea.
Osimhen had failed to find the target on his UEFA Champions League debut, which ended in 3-0 defeat to Ajax.
But he was handed a starting role against Frank Lampard’s men at Stade Pierre-Mauroy on Wednesday, and Osimhen justified Christophe Galtier’s decision, by putting the team on level terms after Tammy Abraham had put the English side ahead.
Though Lille lost 1-2, Osimhen’s performance has remained the talking point for many Nigerian fans that watched the match.
Osimhen rose high above Fikayo Tomori and Kurt Zouma to head Jonathan Bamba’s corner kick past Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Both teams came into Wednesday’s tie having lost their first games. Lille bowed to the Netherlands based outfit, while Lampard’s side crumbled 1-0 at home to Valencia.
In the summer transfer, Lille made approximately €109m (£97m/$119m) by selling Pepe and Leao to Arsenal and AC Milan, respectively.
Osimhen was snapped up from Charleroi for just €12m (£15.5m/$13m), with the potential for a further €2m (£1.8m/$2.2m) to follow in bonuses.
The Nigerian scored 12 times in 25 top-flight appearances in Belgium last term, after previously failing to make the grade at Bundesliga outfit Wolfsburg.
However, it now seems that both clubs may have underestimated a player who has made the most decisive start to a Ligue 1 career since Brazilian Neymar.
Osimhen’s rise to prominence has taken everyone by surprise, though.
This is a young man who lost his mother early in life and used to scavenge for football boots in a dump as a child.
“It was survival,” Osimhen told France Football. “Sometimes you found yourself with a right-footed Nike boot then you’d have to look for the other foot… Finally, you find a left boot and it’s a Reebok!
“My brother sold sports newspapers, my sister, oranges in the street, and me, bottled water in Lagos in the middle of the traffic.
“Part of my life has been a struggle to survive. But that’s what made me all I am today. Each event created my personality,” he stated.
Even, a bout of malaria, which played a role in failed trials with Club Brugge and Zulte Waregem, could not stop his push to the top, and the determination required to beat that illness and return to the elite level oozes through his performances.
For Osimhen, Wednesday’s Champions League meeting with Chelsea was the biggest game yet of his fledgling career – and not least because he’s previously been compared to a Stamford Bridge legend, Didier Drogba.
“I’m sure he’s going to be a phenomenon,” Charleroi goalkeeper Nicolas Penneteau told Voix du Nord back in August. “I’d compare him to Didier Drogba. He really makes me think of him. He has the same profile. He can do everything and he’s phenomenally powerful.”
Drogba, of course, started out in France, though it was not until he was 24, and playing with Guingamp, that his career really took off, leading to a season in Marseille and two spells with Chelsea that wrote him into the club’s history, notably scoring the penalty that won the Blues the 2012 Champions League.
If Osimhen can be compared to the Ivoirian great, it is best to equate him with the raw form of Drogba, the one who played at Stade du Roudourou and the Velodrome.
He does not yet have the muscular physique that Drogba boasted at his peak, and he has yet to display the same level of aerial prowess.
However, Osimhen has the same relentless determination and a keen eye for goal.
There were certainly hints of a young Drogba on the show just 19 minutes into his competitive debut, when he chested down a long ball forward from Jose Fonte, showed the Nantes defence a clean pair of heels, and then rolled home a composed finish.
Ten minutes from time in the same match, he was equally clinical, lashing home a powerful shot from a tight angle into the roof of the goal.
Lille boss Christophe Galtier has already admitted that he fears his side is becoming too reliant on a youngster who is fast becoming their talisman.
Following that weekend’s draw with Nice, he grumbled: “We were too gentle offensively. We’ve not played to win. It’s as if the players are resting on Victor.”
Osimhen’s six goals account for more than half his side’s tally of 12 in Ligue 1, and with a couple of assists too, there is little doubt that he is amply filling the void the summer transfer market imposed upon the team.
“He’s started at a very high level,” Galtier said before last month’s 1-1 draw against Rennes, during which the Osimhen grabbed an assist. “I hope for him and the team it continues.
“In general, when a team has a good season, one player is a revelation. And, automatically, when an attacker is decisive regularly, the team is powerful.”
If he continues along this path, Lille will struggle to hold onto him for more than a season – let along with the duration of his five-year contract.
Osimhen already looks a player purpose-built for Premier League play. His raw assets are formidable, possessing that priceless instinct of getting into goalscoring positions, and even in the areas where there is room for development, he has already demonstrated that he has the capacity to progress.
For now, the standard of Drogba is some way off, but there is no doubt that his start in France proves that he’s working along the correct lines.
If he could make his mark against the team that his fellow African carried to Champions League glory, it would be another step on his own unique path to potential greatness.
Osimhen was named Lille’s Player of the Month award for August. He scored a brace on his debut for Lille to help them to a 2-1 win over Nantes in their first Ligue 1 game of the season.
He netted another brace for his team in their 3-0 league win over Saint Etienne.
Osimhen was in Super Eagles’ squad that played 2-2 against Ukraine in a friendly game at the Dnipro Arena on September 10. While debutant Joe Aribo scored the opener, Osimhen made it two from a penalty spot in the first half before the host fought back to a 2-2 draw.
The goal against Ukraine was Osimhen’s first Super Eagles goal, and the young lad was torn in the flesh of the Ukrainian defence throughout the duration of the match.
Born on December 29, 1998, Osimhen was in the Nigeria U-17 team that won the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile, where he won the Golden Boot and Silver Ball awards. His performances also earned him the CAF Youth Player of the Year award in 2015.
Osimhen made his senior debut for Nigeria in a 3–0 friendly win over Togo on June 1, 2017, but he was not included in Super Eagles’ squad to Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup following his inconsistent season at Wolfsburg.
Following a successful start to his loan spell at Charleroi, he was recalled by coach Gernot Rohr for the November 2018 international break, starting in the friendly win over Uganda.
In March this year, Osimhen was released from the Super Eagles’ squad to represent the Nigerian U-23 side, after the team suffered a 0-2 defeat against their Libyan opponent.
He rose to the occasion at the Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba, scoring three goals in the return match against Libya.
Osimhen was part of the Super Eagles team to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt. After the team lost 1-2 to the Desert Foxes of Algeria in the semifinal, he featured in the third-place match against Tunisia, where he replaced injured Odion Ighalo at half-time. Nigeria won the match 1–0.