Victor Osimhen: his rise, fall and rise

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OSC Lille’s Nigeria striking sensation, Victor Osimhen, is now the man of the moment coming on the heels of his superb form as he scored a goal and a brace against Benin Republic and Lesotho in the Match Day 1 and 2 of the 2021 AFCON to be hosted in Cameroon.

But life has never been this good for Osimhen who few years ago eked out a living on the streets of Lagos selling sachet water-his trajectory is undoubtedly from grass to grace

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Currently, Osimhen is now being touted as the likely lad that could match the enviable height created by the late African Footballer of the Year, Rashid Yekini.

Yekini in his glory was a scoring colossus and he scored a record 37 goals in 58 appearances with the Super Eagles. His goals helped Nigeria secure its maiden ticket to the FIFA World Cup at USA’94 as well as winning the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) at Tunisia ’94.

After Yekini (Ye-King as he was affectionately referred to), there have been all shades of strikers that have don the Nigerian shirts including Nwankwo Kanu, John Utaka, Julius Aghahowa, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Obafemi Martins, Uche Okechukwu and lately Odion Ighalo amongst others.

“It gives me a lot of satisfaction that Victor Osimhen who came through us few years ago from the U-17 team is now an important player for the Super Eagles,” Emmanuel Amuneke, the 1994 African Footballer of the Year, who gave Osimhen his breakthrough as a teenager, said in an interview with The Nation.” His progression means that what we did at the U-17 level is commendable and I’m happy that Victor is growing.

“There was no time I had doubted his ability or quality because he’s such a player that was always ready to throw himself into the game. It is great that he is being seen as the point figure that can help Nigeria towards qualification for the next AFCON.”

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But such Spartan lifestyle in his early days seemed to have prepared him for vicissitudes of life that he has thus experienced in his fledging career. Despite being a youngster at 20, Osimhen has seen it all both in life as well as in his professional football career.

His emergence as an upstart was swift following his breakthrough with the Golden Eaglets under Amuneke in 2015 when he broke the long-held FIFA U-17 World Cup goal-scoring record as he scored 10 goals at Chile 2015 to help Nigeria win the historic fifth global cadet title.

He was personally rewarded with the Golden Boot award as the top scorer of the World Cup as well as Silver Ball as the second Most Valuable Player behind compatriot and captain of the side, Kelechi Nwakali. For his efforts in 2015, he was rewarded with the Africa Young Player of the Year in the annual poll by the Confederation of African Football (CAF).

Thereafter, the lure of European football beaconed on him and the erstwhile striker with Lagos modest side, Ultimate Strikers Academy, was chased by several top European clubs including English Premier League giants, Arsenal.

However, it was German top Bundesliga side, VfL Wolfsburg that eventually won his signature. He could hardly cope with the Teutonic demand at the Volkswagen Arena and was finally confined to the bench after he copped an injury.

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Altogether in over two seasons, he featured in just 14 matches that included just 12 Bundesliga games, two German Cup matches and one other inconsequential game during his spell at Wolfsburg. The knives, of course, were out as the cynical press and public lacerated the youngster to shreds by writing off his budding career.

“I wasn’t disturbed in any way by some of the negative comments and stuff that was written about me during my period at Wolfsburg,” Osimhen told our correspondent early this year. “Some journalists speculated so much about my career but the truth was that I was even sick. And I couldn’t join them for the preseason; it took me about three weeks to come out of that sickness and I really thank God for my life.”

Of course, life can be better not least for a young lad like Osimhen that has an elephantine courage and self-belief. After his rejection by the then Belgian League Champions Zulte-Waregem, Osimhen was sent on a season-long loan to Charleroi in August 2018 and what an inspired transfer it proved to be as he found his scoring boots yet again.

In fact, on his first full-debut for the Les Zebres (The Zebras) in an away tie to Waasland-Beveren on Match Day 8 of the 2018/2019 Belgian Jupiler League, Osimhen’s quality was there for all to see as he struck with an uncommon élan that worthy recollection.

After receiving a deep-lying cross in the box, the burly striker in a spectacular show of skill and precision, nutmegged an on-rushing defender and within twinkle of an eye he scored with a back heel much to the delight of over 8,000 spectators at the Freethel Stadion.

“It’s a great feeling for me to get my first league goal in Europe after two years,” Osimhen told The Nation then. “I’m really happy because I have been working hard; and I think the hard work has started paying off again. This goal is important for me, my family and all my loved ones.”

He ended the season with an impressive scoring card of 20 goals including the record-breaking quickest goal in the history of the Belgian First Division A league to warrant interest from many top European clubs.

But the youngster under the guidance of his benefactors (Ariyo Igbayilola and Shira Yusuf), headed for French Ligue 1 side OSC Lille and was signed for an impressive 13 Million Euros from Charleroi. His rising profile continues at Lille and has become one of the most-talked about players in Europe following a series of superb performance in the domestic French League and in the UEFA Champions League.

In the current campaign, Osimhen has scored seven goals in 13 Ligue 1 matches and has been credited with two goals in four UCL matches to earn the respect of all and sundry.

Despite his side’s 2-1 home loss to Chelsea in the UCL Match Day 2 on October 3rd, Coach Frank Lampard described Osimhen as a player with a lot of potential to be great in future: “In the preparation for this game, I have been watching his (Osimhen) performances for the season and now I know his story as well.

“He’s hugely impressive and I thought he (Osimhen) was really good. He is fast; he has everything and I think it was tough for us to play against him so I wish him well. His story is great where he has come from, where he is now and it looks like a fantastic career ahead of him,” added Lampard.

Speaking in the same vein, experienced coach Manu Garba who has groomed many youngsters for the senior national team, agreed that Osimhen is certainly one for the future for Nigerian national team.

“With his reputation as the record goal scorer in the FIFA U-17 World Cup, I believe Osimhen is going to be one of the best strikers in the history of Nigerian and African football,” explained the former captain of El-Kanemi FC. “But he has to be focused, disciplined and listen to his coaches. He has hunger for scoring goals and always fighting in order to score. He just have to be more composed in front of the goal posts because he has what it takes to be one of Nigeria’s all-time great strikers”

He has since transferred his good scoring form for club to the cause of the national team with the Super Eagles, earning another international cap in the goalless draw against Uganda in an international friendly in Asaba on November 20, 2018.

In March 2019, Osimhen further made heroics in the national colours when he scored a hat trick in the 4-0 win over Libya in Asaba to help the beleaguered Olympic Eagles progress to the next stage of the Tokyo 2020 African qualifying tournament on a 4-2 aggregate.

With such hair-raising performance and coupled with his fine form with Lille, Osimhen was named by Coach Gernot Rohr in the Super Eagles 25-man provisional squad for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt. He was later listed in the final 23-man team for the final tournament where he played once by coming on as a second half substitute for injured Odion Ighalo in the bronze-medal match against Tunisia.

Following Ighalo’s retirement from international football, the onus seemingly fell on Osimhen to lead the new-look Super Eagles’ attack. He demonstrated his readiness to fill the void left by Ighalo by scoring his first goal for the Super Eagles in the 2-2 draw against Ukraine in an international friendly played at the Dnipro Arena. But it was his performance in the most-recent international ties against Benin Republic and Lesotho where he scored half of the team’s six goals in the 2-1 win in Uyo and 4-2 away win in Maseru that has set the Nigerian football scene humming about the new-found striker for the Super Eagles.

“Osimhen is a fantastic player no doubt and he’s young, agile and with good speed,” offered Garba Lawal who featured in four AFCON finals and scored goal in the 3-2 defeat of Spain at the France 1998 World Cup.“ He (Osimhen) has been so fantastic and he should bring himself down and keep on scoring because he’s going to be fantastic player and there is everything going for to succeed.”

Yet, notable former Nigerian internationals have called for caution on the comparison of Osimhen with Yekini, adding that the youngster still has a long way to go.

Hear Lawal: “He (Osimhen) has been scoring a lot of goals lately but I think it’s wrong to start comparing him with late Yekini; there is no striker that can be compared with ‘Gangling.’ Yekini was not called gangling for any reason than because of lethal finish. He did not give himself Gangling, so don’t let us start comparing Osimhen with Yekini.

“He has a long way to go as far as the late Yekini is concerned; he has to be consistent with his game and scoring ability and let us pray for him to have such consistency. This is Nigeria and people would criticize him if he doesn’t score in the next three matches (God forbid); so we should not compare him with the late Yekini so that we don’t give him too much pressure.”

Similarly, Amuneke posited: “It will be too early to start comparing Osimhen with the late Rashid Yekini. He (Yekini) was a total different player and he was someone who has done a lot for Nigeria.

“It is always good to see a youngster like Victor coming up and showing a bit of the quality that Yekini had but he still has a long way to go. He has to remain focused and I hope people around him would always give him the right advice.

“Of course, Osimhen’ story is that of survival but you can’t take away the fact that he has the hunger to succeed right from his days with us in the Under-17 and now to the Super Eagles; we hope he will continue to work hard and score many more goals for the Eagles in order to take Nigerian football to the same height we were during the time of Yekini,“ added the former Barcelona winger.

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