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.”
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.
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.
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.
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