Home AFRICAN STORY Nigeria’s Victor Osimhen: Africa’s Best Footballer’s Journey

Nigeria’s Victor Osimhen: Africa’s Best Footballer’s Journey

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After a fairy tale 2023, the Napoli striker earned the title of Africa’s Men’s Footballer of the Year. The 24-year-old led Napoli to their first title in 33 years but faced his fair share of adversity on the way to the top.

Released by Wolfsburg five years ago, Nigerian striker Victor Osimhen, on Monday night, secured the prestigious CAF Footballer of the Year award.

“Winning the golden ball is a dream come true for me,” Osimhen exclaimed after defeating Mohamed Salah and Achraf Hakimi at a ceremony in Marrakesh, Morocco.

“I appreciate Nigerians for their support. I appreciate Africa for putting me on the map, encouraging me and defending me, regardless of my shortcomings.”

But the story could have been very different.

Osimhen grew up in poverty in Olusosun, a run-down neighborhood in Nigeria’s commercial capital of Lagos.

From landfill life, the young footballer, backed by family, sold newspapers, progressed from picking boots to battling poverty, selling water, and working as a laborer in Lagos.

“The place where I came from, nothing is promised,” Osimhen said in a recent interview. “I am so happy about my breakthrough because nobody gave me a chance of making it out of the trenches. Not just me but my whole family. For me to work my way up, I have shown the kids there that when you work hard and you’re focused, anything is possible with God.”

Breakout year

Coach Emmanuel Amuneke noticed his talents early, selecting him for Nigeria at the 2015 FIFA U17 World Cup in Chile. The striker seized the opportunity, scoring ten goals in seven matches and leading Nigeria to their fifth title. However, due to poverty, his family had to watch the live matches at a neighbor’s house.

Amuneke remembered how Osimhen stood out from hundreds of other players. “I think for Victor, probably because of the [tough] early life that he spent when he was young, that helped him,” said Amuneke at the beginning of this year. “He’s someone that wanted to succeed. Even when you look at him today with Napoli, he doesn’t like to lose. He always wants to win, one quality that singles Victor out.”

Chosen Wolfsburg for calm atmosphere and youth development, but injuries limited 14 Bundesliga games goalless; loaned to Charleroi.

“Wolfsburg condemned him,” his older brother Andrew told DW. “They said he was not fit, that he was not good. But Charleroi gave him that platform.” Former Wolfsburg sporting director Jörg Schmadtke later admitted it was a “poor decision” when Osimhen joined Napoli from Lille for over €60 million ($64.8 million).

Turbulent times in Naples

It took him two years to settle down in the south of Italy. His father died during the COVID-19 lockdown, and he caught the virus when he attended the funeral. Osimhen has also battled severe injuries, including breaking his cheekbone and eye socket back in 2021, which is why he wears a protective mask to this day.

Last season, Osimhen powered Napoli to their first Serie A title since Maradona’s era, finishing as the league’s top scorer with 26 goals.

“I think he was the most important element of that title challenge,” Kristen Schlewitz, author of the book “More Than Maradona,” told DW. “He has this graceful elegance that contradicts his reputation as a physical player.”

Only Maradona is more revered than Osimhen in the city of Naples. Like the Argentine legend, the young Nigerian’s face adorns murals across the city, where they worship their football stars like gods. Fans stand in front of his home every night singing his name. They hang around restaurants until the early hours for autographs. Their adulation matches his boisterous spirit.

“For a boy from Olusosun, who would have thought I would have my picture beside Maradona’s,” said Osimhen. “It’s like a dream.”

In September, Napoli’s official TikTok account strained the player’s relationship with the club by posting a video mocking him after he missed a penalty against Bologna.

He deleted several photos of him wearing the club’s shirt from his social media.Agent Roberto Calenda threatens Napoli with legal action over the “I am not a boy, I am coconut” TikTok controversy after a second mocking video with the viral song from Coconut Hen.

Much of the tension has arisen because Osimhen has refused to extend his contract, which expires in 2025.Napoli asks for over €200 million, deterring buyers, including those from the Saudi Premier League in the summer.

AFCON expectations

Despite club success, Osimhen hasn’t won a senior title with his country. Despite missing recent tournaments, Nigeria’s key player is back for the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast.

“Victor is a fantastic player and striker,” Peseiro told DW. “He is a player with the capacity to score and to create offensive-defensive pressure.”

Nigeria, AFCON champs a decade ago, aims for a comeback. Their “Let’s do it again” social media campaign is driven by a talented squad, led by Africa’s Player of the Year.

Edited by: James Thorogood

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