Victor Osimhen of SSC Napoli celebrates after scoring the 1-0 goal during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and AS Roma at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on January 29, 2023 in Naples, Italy.
Victor Osimhen is currently living a dream in Italy – one that is bigger than him. On his lanky shoulders rest the hopes of the football-crazy southern city of Naples, which is holding its breath for a first Serie A title in 33 years.
THE DREAM CONTINUES Earlier on Sunday, I stumbled upon a scarf amid countless Maradona items in a souvenir shop in the Spanish Quarters of Naples that read: Osimhen 9 – The dream continues. At night he confirmed it with a blistering goal against Roma. The Diego Armando Maradona stadium was in awe and I felt proud and honoured to have witnessed the goal-scoring prowess of a compatriot that is turning heads across the football world.
SUPERB GOAL Osimhen first raised his hand in anticipation of Kvicha Kvaratskhelia’s cross, and when it came, after beating three defenders, he claimed the ball with his chest, brought it down to his thigh before blasting it beyond Rui Patricio and into the roof of Roma’s goal. It seemed like I could even hear the sound. It was unstoppable. A much needed heat on a chilly Sunday night. The goal itself and the confidence with which Osimhen executed it were simply mesmerizing. Even Roma coach Jose Mourinho got to personally praise Osimhen for the “amazing goal”.
Ten times the stadium announcer shouted “Victor!” and each time the sold-out crowd responded with an “Osimhen!” that reverberated around the stadium. I felt goosebumps. It was his 14th league goal of the season, his fifth in four consecutive matches. He is scoring for fun and could become the first African to finish as top scorer in the 125-year history of the Italian topflight. He is also poised to succeed George Weah – the only African player to win the Ballon d’Or – as the African with the most Serie A goals.
SOUGHT-AFTER Osimhen is one of the most sought-after strikers in Europe at the moment and according to Mourinho, “if one day I’m in a club with a lot of money, I’ll buy him”. Rumours say Manchester United are in front of the queue, but Luciano Spalletti remains focused on making history with Osimhen. After the 24-year-old scored a brace and registered an assist against Juventus a few weeks ago, Spalletti said: “Osimhen is such a great striker. The potential he has is scary, I’m excited to see what he can do in the future. He still has a remarkable amount of room for improvement.”
INCREDIBLE SUPPORT On Sunday night, it was also scary when Osimhen needed medical attention twice. Thank goodness it was nothing serious. He would be substituted a minute after El Shaarawy equalised for Roma in the 75th minute. His job on the pitch was done and for the remaining minutes he was an incredible supporter from the bench. Then substitute Giovanni Simeone ensured victory for the hosts in the 86th minute.
A LEADER Even during the celebrations at the end of the match, Osimhen was a leader. The joy and jumps of triumph were a beauty to behold. This was my first time in Napoli, first time at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium, first time watching Victor Osimhen live in a stadium and I am glad it did not end any other way.
“HE NEVER STOPS” I did not get to speak to Osimhen after the game for reasons beyond my control, but seeing how much he is loved and appreciated was satisfying. Osimhen is the name on everyone’s lips. “He is a warrior, he never stops,” a fan said to me. I approached another Napoli supporter who was walking with his son towards the entrance of the stadium and at the mention of “Victor Osimhen” his shy kid smiled.
Osimhen has had his low moments. After becoming Napoli’s marquee and most expensive signing in the summer of 2020, he could only manage 10 goals and three assists, from 30 games in his debut season was riddled with injury, suspensions and coronavirus-related problems. The following season he suffered a horrendous facial injury but still went on to win the best Under 23 player of the season and was Napoli’s top league scorer with 14 goals. And this month, he received the Globe Soccer’s Emerging Player of the Year 2022 award.
MARADONA In Napoli, Diego Maradona is worshipped, after he led them to “the promised land” in1986/87 and 1989/90 – the only times they have ever won the Serie A title. Maradona’s number 10 jersey is still very popular and even on matchdays they are hung beside those of the current players. But Osimhen seems to be building his own legacy in this Italian city that has be likened to the one in which he was born and bred, Lagos.
NAPOLI LIKE LAGOS A Nigerian fuji singer, Wasiu Alabi Pasuma captured the similarities of Napoli and Lagos in his song “Napoli Like Lagos”. Osimhen used the phrase for one of his intial tweets on July 31, 2020 after he was announced as a Napoli player. I have come to see some as well, especially the busy and chaotic lifestyle that defines both.
HUMBLE BEGINNINGS Osimhen was born in Olusosun, one of the poverty-stricken slums in Lagos and he never forgets his humble beginnings of playing football without boots. The world first took notice of his brilliance at the 2015 Under-17 World Cup in Chile where he clinched the Golden Boot and Silver Ball awards as the Golden Eaglets won the title. He was 16 years old at the time and scored a tournament-record 10 goals, which eventually earned him Africa’s Youth Player of the Year award for 2015.
With the 2-1 win over Roma, Napoli now have 53 points from 20 games and are 13 points clear of second-placed Inter Milan.