Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images.

How Victor Osimhen Wrote His Name in Naples History

The Nigerian and Napoli star led the Italian club to their first Serie A title in 33 years. It was a fairytale season to remember.

On May 7, 2023, the air was visibly euphoric at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium in Naples, Italy. Fathers, mothers, and children supporting the home team cheered loudly throughout the entirety of the home team’s duel with Fiorentina, hailing every kick, pass, and clearance from their players.

Truth be told, the home support could be scarcely concerned with the result of that game as much as they were invested in creating a celebratory atmosphere ahead of full-time. Just three days earlier, Napoli had secured the Serie A title following a terse 1-1 draw away to Udinese. On that Sunday evening at the Maradona Stadium, Napoli just wanted to party with its new heroes.

The laudatory aspirations of the Partenopei faithful were kicked off with a slender 1-0 win, secured courtesy of a late Victor Osimhenpenalty. At the end of the game, as the league-winning players were introduced to the stadium individually, some of the loudest cheers were reserved for Osimhen.

It has not been a strange sight this season to see home fans feverishly chanting the name of the 24-year-old Nigerian striker. Against the backdrop of a historic title charge that has resulted in Napoli’s first Scudetto in 33 years, Osimhen has typified the Southern Italy club’s ethos of bravery, character, and fearlessness.

Operating as one of Napoli’s principal attacking outlets, Osimhen has battled and harried his way to the top of the goalscorers’ chart in Italy this season. In doing so, he dragged Napoli to its first Serie A title since the glory days of the irrepressible Diego Maradona. True to the Neapolitan tradition of deifying its most popular spotting icons, Osimhen has become an object of public adoration, forever writing his name into Naples' history.

“You still don’t know what you did, trust me,” former Italian champion, Mario Balotelli, told Osimhen hours after his equaliser against Udinese that secured the title. “Now you’ve won, you will realize in years, not tomorrow, next year but in ten years you’ll understand what you did. It’s unbelievable, seriously.”

Early Years

Despite what the current trajectory of Osimhen’s career might suggest, the footballer's journey to the top of the game has not been all plain sailing. Born in Lagos, Nigeria, on the 29th of December 1998, Osimhen was the last of six children born to a family with origins in Esan South East Local Government Area of Edo State in Nigeria. The striker, who grew up in the Olusosun area of Lagos, has often recounted the story of how life got tough following the death of his mother and his father losing his job.

“I really hustled on the streets of Lagos and toyed with the idea of doing so many things initially," Osimhen told CAFOnline in 2015. As a kid, he sold sachet water in Lagos’ notorious traffic gridlocks and maintained an interest in music while admiring Nigerian rapper, Olamide.

Osimhen got his earliest football education playing pick-up games on the streets of Lagos, where he honed the intense and improvisational style that has made him one of the best strikers in world football. He also picked up some skills from his brother who was a striker on a local team.

With Drogba as an icon and his brother mentoring him, Victor joined the Ultimate Strikers Academy in Lagos where he started to attract the interest of local scouts and recruiters.

Golden Eaglets

Osimhen entered national consciousness as a part of the 2015 Nigerian U-17 team coached by Nigerian football legend, Emmanuel Amuneke. Selected from a group of over 3,000 players, Osimhen justified Amuneke’s faith in him by leading Nigeria to the semi-finals of the African Cup of Nations U-17 competition. He also finished as the top scorer in that competition with four goals.

More success was on the horizon for the striker at the U-17 World Cup scheduled to be held in Chile later in 2015. Taking advantage of the presence of scouts from across the world and the global profile of the World Cup, Osimhen led Nigeria to the title. He also scored 10 goals on the way to the title, setting a new record for the highest number of goals scored at a U-17 World Cup finals.

Move To Europe

Following his stellar performances at the U-17 World Cup, Osimhen was scouted by a number of European clubs. In January 2016, it was announced that he had committed to a pre-contract with German top-flight team, Wolfsburg, joining up with the team in January 2017.

Upon joining Wolfsburg, Osimhen was tipped to make an impression in Europe but the move didn’t quite pan out as he expected as a mix of poor form, injuries, and little game time meant that Osimhen’s development did not proceed as expected. In total, he made 16 appearances for Wolfsburg without getting on the scoresheet.

Ahead of the 2018/2019 season, he held trials with Belgian clubs, Club Brugge and Zulte Waregem, looking to join a team but his poor physical condition after a bout with malaria ruled out a move. A move to fellow Belgian top-flight club, Charleroi, beckoned with the youngster joining a loan with an option to buy. He immediately took to life in the south of Belgium, scoring 20 goals in 38 appearances. At the end of the season, Charleroi swiftly took up their option to confirm Osimhen’s purchase from Wolfsburg.

After one season with Charleroi, it was evident that Osimhen was ready for a step up. With French club, LOSC Lille, seeking a new goalscoring threat after the sale of Nicolas Pépé to Arsenal, they soon fixed their attention on Osimhen. He was duly signed on a deal worth €12 million plus another €3m in various bonuses and add-ons.

Another successful season followed for the rising star. He was named the Ligue 1 player of the month for September 2019 and scored a goal against English giants, Chelsea, during Lille’s 2-1 loss to them in a UEFA Champions League tie. At the end of the season, he had scored 18 goals from 38 appearances.

Naples Beckons: The Italia Years

Convinced of Osimhen’s quality, Napoli’s president, Aurelio De Laurentiis, shelled out €70 million to sign Osimhen in a deal potentially rising to €80 million with add-ons. The deal instantly made him the most expensive African transfer to date.

Osimhen’s time in Naples has been a learning curve for the striker who has had to adapt to being rotated due to the talent at the Neopolitan club. He has, however, made an impression when called upon.

On October 17, 2020, after scoring his first goal for the club in a dominant 4-1 win against Atalanta, Osimhen held up a shirt to decry police brutality in Nigeria and show support for the #EndSARS movement in the country. Ultimately, his first season in the club was disrupted by a shoulder injury but he still ended up registering 10 goals from 30 appearances.

His second season saw a return to the clinical reputation that he built at Charleroi and LOSC Lille as he scored 18 goals from 32 appearances. Unfortunately, injuries crept in and he sustained a horrific head injury during a game against Inter Milan at the San Siro.

That injury and a COVID-19 diagnosis ruled the young striker out of contention for the 2022 African Cup Of Nations where he was billed to be a top performer. Upon return, Osimhen was required to wear a protective mask and has since continued to wear it, making it a key part of his identity with boys and girls in Naples emulating him by wearing the mask over kits with his name on it.

The Record-Breaking Season

Napoli experienced a change of guard ahead of the 2022/2023 season with a number of key players leaving the club. Captain, Lorenzo Insigne, moved to the MLS to join Toronto FC. Long-time fan favourite, Dries Mertens, also left following the expiration of his contract while Senegalese defender, Kalidou Koulibaly, moved away to join Chelsea. As part of a new core at the club, there were big expectations for Osimhen and he has delivered impeccably.

Alongside Georgian wunderkind, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, he has established a lethal duo that has struck fear into the heart of defenses across Italy and Europe. Leading the line for Napoli this season, Osimhen has broken record after record. On November 11, 2023, after a goal in a 2-1 victory against Atlanta, he became the leading Nigerian goalscorer in Serie A history.

For many watchers, Osimhen’s definitive performance this season came in a 5-1 demolition of Italian heavyweights, Juventus, in January 2023. Running the Juve backline ragged, he scored two goals and recorded one assist in the rout. Just one month later, he reached the 100-goal career landmark with a strike during Napoli’s 2-0 win against Sassuolo.

More acclaim has also come in the UEFA Champions League where he scored five goals from six appearances. Over two round-of-16 ties against German opposition, Eintracht Frankfurt, he scored three goals and added another one during the second leg of his club’s quarter-final tie against AC Milan.

Predictably, it was an Osimhen goal that clinched the league title for Napoli, sweeping home a rebound from Kvaratskhelia’s blocked shot during the 1-1 tie with Udinese on the 4th of May 2023. That goal meant that Napoli won the league with five games to spare.

Another goal from the penalty spot in the game against Fiorentina three days later meant that he had reached 23 league goals for the season. It also meant that he was the African player with the most Italian league goals in one season, breaking Samuel Eto’o’s record.

As it is Osimhen is on track to win the Capocannoniere award traditionally awarded to the top goal scorer in Italy with his closest rival, Lautaro Martinez, four goals behind him.

International Duties

From the start of his career, Osimhen has been viewed as a potential player for the Nigerian senior national team. That became a reality when he made his debut for the country during a 2-0 loss to South Africa in June 2017. Since then, he has become the talisman of the national team, scoring 15 goals in 24 appearances.

Osimhen has, however, only been to one major international tournament with Nigeria, making one appearance in the third-place match at the 2019 African Cup Of Nations in Egypt.

Photo by Ahmed Gomaa/Xinhua via Getty Images

What to expect from the 2023 AFCON qualifiers

The run-up to next year’s AFCON continues with qualifying fixtures, favourites to enter the tournament, and young talents to watch out for.

Resuming on March 22 are the qualifier rounds of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), the biggest football and sporting event in Africa. 46 African nations compete to be among the 24 who will partake in the 34th edition of AFCON, taking place next year in Ivory Coast. Actually, 45 of the 46 nations are truly brawling for a spot—Ivory Coast, being the host nation, will enjoy an automatic qualification.

Besides Cameroon, Namibia, South Africa, and Liberia, the other 42 teams have each played two games since the qualifiers began last year. Each team will play a total of six matches to qualify for the tournament, playing each team in their group twice.

On March 22, the round of qualifiers will resume with a Group L fixture between the Republic of Benin and Rwanda, to take place at the Stade de l'Amitie, in Cotonou. Both teams will be hoping to land their first win in the qualifiers, after each failed to beat Mozambique and Senegal, the latter the title holder currently topping Group L.

Later that day, Sierra Leone will take on São Tomé and Princípe, the Group A fixture taking place in Adrar Stadium, in Agadir, Morocco. The pair will also be aiming for their first win in the qualifiers. But with São Tomé and Princípe suffering an embarrassing 10-nil defeat to current group leader Nigeria last June, all hope of qualification seems lost for the Central African country.

Favourites to qualify for the 2023 AFCON

Thus far, based on which teams currently top their group after winning their previous two fixtures, these nations seem bound for AFCON 2023: Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Mali, Morocco, and Senegal. Considering all six countries have a better head-to-head record than each of their next respective opponents, they likely will, at the least, clinch a point in their next game, bringing them closer to qualifying for the tournament.

Qualification seems a given for these teams because they are also some of the most highly-ranked African teams on FIFA's most recent world rankings.

Traditional favourites like Ghana, Tunisia, and Egypt are also expected to scale through the qualifiers. Other favourites include "Gabon, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, and South Africa," said Lloyd Badeji, owner of the sports blog Sports Faculty, over a phone interview.

Players likely to impress in the qualifier round

Victor Osimhen is bound to blaze a trail during the qualifiers. The 24-year-old Nigerian striker is currently one of the top goalscorers in Europe this season, only behind Erling Haaland, Harry Kane and Kylian Mbappe. Known for his clinical finishing and athleticism, Osimhen, this season, has scored 21 goals in 23 matches in the Serie A for Napoli, leading the Italian club to its first league title in 30 years.

It is no surprise that Osimhen, with 5 goals, is currently the top scorer in the AFCON qualifiers, scoring four of those goals in the game Nigeria trounced São Tomé and Princípe 10-nil. Nigeria's coach Jose Poseiro will be hoping the striker is in his element as the Super Eagles welcome Guinea-Bissau this Friday to the Abuja National Stadium, where they hope to maintain their lead in Group A.

Another player to watch out for is Ghana's Mohammed Kudus. At only 22, Kudus boasts of a technical ability beyond his age, with clubs like Manchester United courting him. With 11 goals and two assists this season for his club side Ajax, Kudus is that rare thing: a goalscoring midfielder.

As Ghana takes on Angola on Thursday, coach Chris Hughton will be hoping the midfielder is in fine form. Hughton will also be banking on Thomas Partey and Inaki Williams, both of whom have been impressive for their respective clubs this season and likely will be some of the standout performers during the qualifiers.

Also likely to be a standout performer during the qualifiers is the Moroccan midfielder Sofyan Amrabat. The 26-year-old, who is known for his stamina as well as his ball-winning ability, was one of the stars of the 2022 World Cup held in Qatar — where he made 33 recoveries, six interceptions, and 143 passes with an 87% success rate.

This season, Eric Chuopo-Moting has played 17 games for Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga, scoring 10 and assisting two. He plays as a forward for Cameroon, where he has enjoyed 72 caps, scoring 20 goals in that time. Given his current form, he, too, will likely be a standout performer during the qualifiers.

The Cameroonian side, likewise, will be counting on 31-year-old Vincent Aboubakar, whose daring lob goal against Brazil was one of the highlights of the 2022 World Cup. Aboubakar, who currently plays for Beşiktaş, is known for his dribbling and ability to create space for his teammates. He scored the winning goal in the final of the 2017 AFCON tournament and will be one to watch in this year's qualifiers.

Victor Osimhen of SSC Napoli during warm up ahead of the Serie A match between Torino FC and SSC Napoli at Stadio Olimpico di Torino on March 19, 2023 in Turin, Italy.Victor Osimhen of SSC Napoli during warm up ahead of the Serie A match between Torino FC and SSC Napoli at Stadio Olimpico di Torino on March 19, 2023 in Turin, Italy.Photo by Chris Ricco/Getty Images

Youngsters to look out for

Sadly, fans will not get to see Tariq Lamptey, the promising 22-year-old Ghanaian right-back who has been ruled out of the qualifiers due to injury. However, there are several other youngsters to look out for, such as Fasistencio Maria Faza Joa, the 19-year-old Algerian goalkeeper who has often impressed with his quick reflexes and ability to play with his feet.

Also likely to impress is the 19-year-old Daniel Bameyi, who plays as a defender for Nigeria. He is nicknamed The Major, speaking to his dominant presence on the pitch, and has proven to be great at dispatching aerial threats.

Ahmed Shereef, who is 19 years old and plays as a forward for Egypt, is one of the young stars to look out for in the qualifiers. Another 19-year-old to watch out for is Samba Diallo, who plays for Dynamo Kyiv. So far, Diallo has scored three goals in the qualifiers.

The youngest of the players likely to impress in the qualifiers is Zambia's Charles Mumba, who plays as a midfielder for Atletico Lusaka. As proof of his ability, the 18-year-old was named the best player at the 2022 COSAFA qualifiers.

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