Napoli recently lost their perfect record in Serie A when they drew against Roma and Verona. But that has not reduced the rave about their Nigerian striker, Victor Osimhen. He hit the post, the crossbar, and had a goal chalked off for offside against Roma. Against Verona, he was hampered by a calf injury. The 22-year-old has become the focal point of Napoli’s offence as they seek their first Scudetto since 1990 in the halcyon years of a certain Diego Maradona.
“I want the goal. I’m going to get it. It is an attack of pure instinct. An attack of pure hunger. And in these two adjectives there is all Victor Osimhen,” wrote ilnapolista, the day after Osimhen’s goal against Torino on matchday 8 of the 2021/22 Serie A season.
ilnapolista continued: “The team, thanks to a very favourable moment, is compensating for the errors from the spot with great desire and great self-denial, thanks to a centre-forward [Osimhen] who, in terms of weight on the team’s fortunes, affects the percentage of each game more.
“I think Osimhen has been the best player in Serie A this season,” wrote Mina Rzouki on Twitter. “There have been some amazing displays from the likes of Lautaro Martinez to Mike Maignan and Chiesa, but Osimhen is a machine. He’s basically Napoli’s heart and soul. What a privilege to have him,” added Rzouki on Twitter.
According to FBREF, Osimhen has a non-penalty Expected Goals average of 0.71. Robert Lewandowski, considered the most lethal No.9 in world football, boasts a 1.13 figure; Erling Haaland 0.96; Romelu Lukaku 0.49, and Harry Kane (though he is having a poor season) has 0.45.
Bayern Munich’s Lewandowski is arguably the most efficient No.9 in world football and the player to whom Osimhen should look to emulate. Lewandowski’s record in the last two seasons has been nothing short of stupendous. The Pole scores with an average of 4.4 Shots per 90 minutes.
Lewandowski ranks first for successful shots taken, creating actions per 90 minutes (2.85). This season, he has already scored 29 goals in 24 matches for club and country.
Victor Osimhen vs Robert Lewandowski
The numbers from the early weeks of this season, although drawn from a relatively small sample size of minutes, show that Osimhen’s scoring threat is the main reason Napoli have a near-perfect record in Serie A.
His nine goals significantly exceed Osimhen’s combined goals (xG) rating of 6.9.
A great admirer of the 22-year-old is ESPN writer Gabriele Marcotti, who wrote of Osimhen after the 1-0 win over Torino: “Victor Osimhen’s prodigious leap with a hang time worthy of Ronaldo sent the ball into the back of the Torino net with minutes to go, giving Napoli the well-deserved three points.
“When Osimhen is like this – and he has been for much of this season he’s close to unplayable and, perhaps, the best candidate to stake his claim for a place in the sacred pentagon of centre-forwards you know, the one occupied by (in no particular order) Robert Lewandowski, Erling Haaland, Karim Benzema, Harry Kane, and Romelu Lukaku.”
Very high praise for the Nigerian, who seemed to have lost his way just three years ago. What has led to this geometric progression in form? How different is this Osimhen from the one discovered by Coach Emmanuel Amuneke in 2015?
What has changed for Osimhen?
Amuneke, now based in Spain and working with FIFA, told PREMIUM TIMES, “I am not surprised Victor has become what he is today. The only surprise is that it took this long.
“When I first saw him play, the only thing he wanted to do was run. Immediately, one of his midfielders got the ball, he would take off, and that is why you saw him caught offside a lot, but that shooting has been with him since day one. He always wants to shoot, no matter the angle.
“But now when you look at his movement closely, he is being coached to choose his strongest areas near or inside the box before he delivers the killer shot. He continues to be aggressive but he now deliberately wants to rough-handle any centre-back.
“You can also see that his approach play has improved, and he is learning to hang on the last shoulder of the last defender to bring his teammates into the picture before spinning and sprinting towards the goal.
Victor Osimhen at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2015
“In the U-17s, we would beg him to jump and head the ball, but he didn’t believe in the efficacy. But now he has added heading the ball because he has a great leap. But there is still a lot more to learn.
“He will better understand how to conserve his energy even though running the channels is one of his strongest attributes. He must learn to lure defenders into a trap and not show his intent always. You can see he is still raw around the edges, but he is receiving a great education at Napoli. Kudos to Spalletti,” Amuneke added.
To corroborate the observation about Osimhen’s increasing heading instincts, Antonio Cassano told BoboTv as per Tutto Napoli, “The goal he scored against Torino was incredible. When Cristiano Ronaldo did it, everyone praised him and put in how many metres and centimetres he jumped.”
Upward transformation in tactical and technical education
Osimhen is 22 and has become the offensive fulcrum for Napoli and Nigeria over the past two years.
In June 2020, the football observatory, CIES, released its ‘Biannual CIES Observatory transfer value list’ – an exclusive list of the top 100 most valuable footballers in the world, and it included Osimhen. The study looked at the various leagues and from it emerged the four most valuable players. Osimhen was valued at $73 million in 66th place while Kylian Mbappe topped that list with a value of $294 million.
Transfer Market put his value on October 31 to be $70 million, one that will substantially increase if he keeps up his level of performance and the number of goals scored.
Speaking recently, Osimhen said: “They [Napoli] trust me and stood by me through the tough start last season. The love I enjoy is massive — the club, the city, the supporters, and everyone connected to Napoli make me fly.
“I play for an incredible club with huge football history. I only have to focus and give my best all the time.”
A lot of pundits and fans were sceptical when Napoli paid $79.2 million for his services in 2020, amidst the COVID pandemic. This was after he had spent three-quarters of a season with Lille, who he joined in 2019 from Belgian club RSC Charleroi.
The Nigerian youngster has proven to be keen on learning and listening to older teammates who have more experience in the game. Dries Mertens revealed Osimhen is always looking for advice.
“He is accustomed to galloping in wide-open spaces, so coming back to get the ball or support his teammate and then make the run are things he is still learning. He’s a great professional, a lovely guy who is eager to learn and improve.
“His teammates adore him; he wants to be with them all the time and we’re very fortunate to have him.”
Mertens added, “Osimhen arrived last season and had a few difficulties settling. He also had injury problems, so I tried to help him. He’s a smart lad who wants to listen and learn. I give him all the love in the world!”
Tor-Kristian Karlsen, writing in ESPN, said Osimhen is almost akin to the late Rashidi Yekini.
“At a time when many strikers want the ball to their feet, he prefers running behind defences. He is direct, sharp, and clinical in his finishing.”
The next level is understanding and improving his strengths
The ESPN article added what Osimhen needs to add to his game for him to keep improving, “At times, he is so eager to make runs behind opposing defenders that he does not even consider the option of retaining possession to allow his team to move higher up the pitch.”
But he has learnt to keep possession much better this season. In the 2020/21 season, Osimhen held possession on the average 6.5 times while in the fledging 2021/22 season, that average has increased to 10.4.
Napoli teammate Amir Rahmani told Livescore in October: “Sometimes I have trouble containing Victor Osimhen in practice. He is very quick and strong. He is growing and understanding what his strengths are.”
The article continued, “He has completed an impressive 60% of his take-ons this season and not a single Serie A defender has shown they can match him for pace.”
Mauro Bonomi, a former Italy defender, added of Osimhen, “He is a force of nature, has it all, and is a great striker. Napoli made a great purchase and this will be the year of the consecration.
“I don’t know if he will be in first place in the top scorer, but he will be decisive for his team.”
Osimhen has been fouled for a penalty thrice this season and has had 16 fouls committed against him as he continues to prove a handful for defenders.
Osimhen dreams of one day being named CAF player of the year. “My dream is to become the football African player of the year and I think I still have a long way to go. I am really working towards that direction and I think I am on the right path.”
He also wants to start a family. But right now, “football is the only thing on my mind,” Osimhen added in an interview with Napoli in October 2020. In the interview, he also said, “In my new club, a lot is being expected of me and I am yet to deliver.”
One year from that, he is showing why Napoli will feel justified to have spent almost $100 million to acquire his services from Lille in 2020.