Across Europe’s top-five leagues, Victor Osimhen is a major reason for why Napoli is the most in-form team with dominance domestically and continentally. The Nigerian striker, combining seamlessly with Georgian Kvicha Kvaratskhelia, has 18 goals. That is five better than second-place Lautaro Martínez at Inter Milan. More impressive, though, is that Osimhen has done it in four fewer games than the Argentine.
The reward for Napoli is a 15 point gap lead on Martínez and Inter Milan in the race for the Scudetto. In Europe, Osimhen and Napoli blitzed through their Champions League group that had Liverpool and Ajax. The only falter in that group was a loss at Anfield, 2-0. In European play, Osimhen added to his tally with a goal against Ajax. He did, however, miss half of those games with either injury or substitute status.
The Nigerian’s rise has pundits and coaches alike naming him among the top strikers in the world, not just Italy. Here is how he went from the Belgian Pro League to Serie A leader in just five years.
Victor Osimhen first made headlines with a magical 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup performance. The Ultimate Strikers Academy phenom won the Golden Boot when he scored ten goals and had two assists in seven matches. Nigeria trounced the likes of Croatia, the United States and mighty Brazil to win the tournament. Success at the U-17 World Cup earned Osimhen a deal with Wolfsburg. He began training with the first team not long after.
He did not see a lot of game time with Wolfsburg as they battled through relegation scares to stay afloat. In two years with the Germans, Osimhen made 15 total appearances and scored no goals. He moved on loan to Belgian side RSC Charleroi, where he earned both lots of minutes and goals. His 12 goals and 3 assists in 25 matches powered them to an eighth-place league finish. That output also attracted suitors across Europe.
“My confidence level [at Wolfsburg] was very low at some point, and what going out on loan to Charleroi has done for me is unexplainable,” Osimhen told BBC Sport while playing in the Jupiler Pro League. “The football in Belgium has helped, I also have a wonderful group of players around me and the coaching crew have been great with me.”
After making the loan permanent in 2019, Osimhen packed his bags for LOSC Lille in a $24 million move, which was more than three times as profitable as Charleroi’s previous record departure.
“Lille is a very good club that has a high quality project and attracts players with great class, even more so than ever before in recent years,” Osimhen said after replacing Rafael Leao from Milan. “I am very happy to be here and to join this great club called Lille. I am still very young, I am learning and I think that this project suits me perfectly to continue to progress.”
Osimhen made an immediate impact after stepping foot on the Stade Pierre Mauroy. he scored four goals in his first three Ligue 1 matches. Despite the club’s mediocrity on the big stage with five losses in six Champions League games, Osimhen was a breath of fresh air. He ended the season with thirteen goals, fourth in Ligue 1. His performances, like Leao’s in the previous season, earned him a move to the Serie A.
After beating Manchester United and Chelsea in the race for Osimhen, Napoli has put Osimhen to great use. Each season, the striker improves. His debut campaign brought a decent return of 10 goals in 2020/21. Then, he put out 13 in 2021/22. This season, he bested those with many games still to play. After 19 games, he has 18 goals and three assists. That is good for over a goal contribution per game in Serie A. He’s been key in his three-year tenure at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium. He leads Napoli’s quests to challenge European action with one of Europe’s best front lines.
Despite stars like Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens status on the team, Osimhen was who Napoli went to for goals, and for good reason.
“Osimhen is such a great striker. I am stunned by the potential he has and excited to see what he’ll do in future,” manager Luciano Spalletti told DAZN after their 5-1 romp over Juventus. “There were these two or three balls down the touchline and he has the pace, the skill, the courage and physicality to deal with those situations. After all, he smashed his face a couple of times because he goes for every ball. He still has remarkable room for improvement.”
His highlights include a Europa League brace against Leicester, a hat-trick in Napoli’s win over Sassuolo and his two goals and assist in the 5-1 win.
Osimhen is not a dangerous dribbler like Khvicha Kvaratskhelia. He is not an intrusive, space-creating winger like Matteo Politano.
Rather, Osimhen’s chief job is to lurk in the box and look for chances inside the box. It fits; he can score with both feet and his head. He can even be a playmaker inside the box.
Wherever Osimhen has played, he has had good creators behind him, so he does not dribble nor fall deep to get the ball. But, we do know that his ability to make the right pass and create opportunities is there.
His frame is large at 6’1 and 165 pounds. Just visually, he towers over defenders, so it’s only natural Luciano Spalletti uses Osimhen as a traditional No. 9. Osimhen is dynamic, always moving, and although his chief priority is to make line-breaking runs past the last man, he often breaks loose to join wing-oriented attacks or drifts wide to create space.
That movement is why he has 80 total Serie A shots, 32 of which are on target. His current tally puts him on pace for a sensational, and potentially record-breaking, 36 league goals by the end of the campaign. It helps that Osimhen is clinical, athletic, confident, and intelligent with his positioning. That’s a combination that only a few top-tier strikers have.
Osimhen’s profile resembles that of Erling Haaland, Harry Kane or Dusan Vlahovic. All three are both big, burly, cut-throat strikers leading some of Europe’s storied teams. The similarities mean it’s no surprise that teams like United, Liverpool and Chelsea are pursuing the Nigerian attacker. Despite his skill and obvious goal-scoring ability, Osimhen likely won’t leave Napoli for a while. His contract expires in two years, but he is at the crux of something special in southern Italy.
It seems like Napoli will run away with the Scudetto. FiveThirtyEight estimates their odds of winning at 97%, by far the best among Europe’s top leagues. Napoli has one of its best chances at winning a continental trophy since Maradona’s time. With an exciting young core to build around, the Naples faithful will enjoy a dominant period already taking place.
As for Osimhen, he feels as elated as the Napoli fans to be a part of such a thriving fanbase. “Not even 100%, 1,001% per cent. I am at one of the biggest clubs in Europe, one of the best leagues in Europe,” he said to Nigerian outlet OmaSports on whether he wanted to stay or not. “This is the life I want to live.”
PHOTO: IMAGO / Antonio Balasco
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