Picture this: a roaring stadium, fans on the edge of their seats, and a striker that has risen above all to capture the hearts of football enthusiasts around the world. Victor Osimhen, the sensation from Nigeria, is not just any ordinary player. In the 2022-23 season, he solidified his place in football history, after 33 years of waiting, he helped Napoli clinch the Serie A title.
From the bustling streets of Lagos to the limelight of European football, Victor Osimhen’s journey is a testament to raw talent meeting unwavering determination. Born in Nigeria in 1998, Osimhen began his footballing odyssey with the Ultimate Strikers Academy, making waves with his innate goal-scoring prowess. His big break arrived at the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup, where he not only helped Nigeria clinch the title but also bagged the Golden Boot with a remarkable ten goals. This feat caught the eyes of many European scouts, eventually leading him to sign with VfL Wolfsburg in 2017. Osimhen’s early career, marked by passion and potential, set the stage for the footballing sensation he would become.
When Victor Osimhen donned the Napoli shirt after a record-breaking €70 million transfer in 2020, expectations were sky-high. However, his debut season was a blend of highs and lows. He announced his arrival with a goal against Atalanta, followed by a powerful statement against police brutality in Nigeria. Yet, fortune didn’t always favour him. In a match representing Nigeria, Osimhen suffered a shoulder injury, sidelining him for two months.
Despite both injury and covid setbacks, Osimhen returned to the pitch in January 2021, marking his comeback in Napoli’s Coppa Italia victory against Spezia. The season was further marked with injury and even surgery. Despite this he still managed to finish the season with 18 goals across all competitions.
The 2022-23 season saw Osimhen coming into his own. His skills shone bright in the Champions League, especially with his maiden goal against Ajax. From there, it was a season of accolades. He achieved his first Serie A hat-trick, surpassed Simy’s record to become Nigeria’s top scorer in Serie A, and then went on a spree, netting goals against giants like Juventus. Osimhen’s prowess didn’t stop there; he achieved the rare feat of scoring in seven consecutive league games. His most iconic moment came in May when he scored against Udinese, a goal that sealed Napoli’s first Serie A title in over three decades. The records tumbled as he went on to surpass George Weah to become Serie A’s highest-scoring African player.
Breaking a record is no small feat, and when that record is held by an African legend like George Weah, it’s all the more monumental. The former AC Milan striker, and now the President of Liberia, watched from the sidelines as Osimhen levelled and then surpassed his record of most goals by an African in Serie A. In a gripping match against Udinese, the Nigerian matched Weah’s record and then claimed it outrightly in a nail-biting victory over Fiorentina.
Completing the season as the highest goal scorer in Italy with a stunning 26 goals, Osimhen has done what no African player has done before. The whispers and shouts and odds from new sports betting sites in the UK all point in one direction – the 2023 Ballon d’Or should belong to him.
Nigeria is well-known for its rich football heritage, and has gifted the sport with stars like Asisat Oshoala and Victor Osimhen who have earned nominations for this year’s prestigious Ballon d’Or award.
Oshoala, now twice-nominated, rightfully earned her selection by contributing to Barcelona’s treble win and leading the Super Falcons to the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup’s round of 16. Meanwhile, Osimhen’s stellar season guided Napoli to a first Scudetto title in 33 years and made notable contributions in their UEFA Champions League quarter-finals journey. However, they are not the first Nigerians to be nominated for Europe’s most prestigious individual award.
Back in the 90s, Nigerian footballers really made waves globally. Think about 1995: there was not one, but three Nigerians up for the Ballon d’Or. Finidi George was lighting it up with Ajax, clinching the UEFA Champions League. Daniel Amokachi? He had a great season with Everton, lifting the FA Cup. And then there is Jay-Jay Okocha – playing for Eintracht Frankfurt in 1995, he left supporters in awe of his footwork and technical ability.
Then there’s Nwankwo Kanu, the Arsenal legend. Twice nominated in the 90s, first in ’96 after leading the Dream Team to Olympic gold, and again in ’99.
In ’97, Victor Ikpeba, the ‘Prince of Monaco’, was on fire in France, even snatching up the African Footballer of the Year title. He was 32nd in the Ballon d’Or rankings that year. Finally, Sunday Oliseh in ’98. After showing off at Ajax and during the World Cup with the Super Eagles, he totally deserved his nomination.
While only one African player, George Weah, has won the trophy since it was opened to non-European players in 1995, it’s a shadow that hangs over the continent. Greats like Samuel Eto’o, Didier Drogba, and Mohammed Salah were simply in the same era as football legends Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. But as their reigns draw to a close, Victor Osimhen emerges as a beacon of hope, aiming to mirror George Weah’s 90s success.