Victor Osimhen: From selling water bottles to an €80m transfer (Issue 3)
This article by Kevin Jeffries is an extract from the third issue of Get Football’s European Football publication, The Modern Footballer. For more player profiles like this one, as well as club columns, news and historical features from around the continent.
November 8th, 2015. Estadio Sausalito. Viña del Mar, Chile. 56th minute. Following a cross from Chinedu Madueke, Victor Osimhen scores the opening goal of the final of the U17 World Cup. His last goal of the tournament, after finding the net in each of the previous six games on the route to lifting the trophy, breaking the record for the most goals in a single edition with 10. A record that still stands.
Obviously, such a performance did not go unnoticed. Clubs like Arsenal, Manchester City, PSG and Inter Milan were all linked with the golden boy, who also impressed Lille and former Monaco transfer guru Luís Campos. Eventually, hoping for a reasonable game time, he officially joined Wolfsburg in January 2017. The right move for the rising star’s career? It was not going to be easy in Germany, but life has often been challenging for Osimhen.
Born in Lagos, Nigeria in December 1998, the youngest of seven children – three boys and four girls – he grew up in Olusosun, where Africa’s biggest open landfill can be found and where extreme poverty is the norm. The young Victor was struck by tragedy when he was barely six–years–old. As he explained to France Football: ”I lost my mum in October [that year]. Three months later, my father lost his job. It was a very tough time for our family. My brother was selling newspapers, my sister [sold] oranges and I [sold] bottles of water in the Lagos traffic jams. We had to survive so we stuck together. Every night, we gathered our money on the table and gave everything to my sister, who took care of it all. Part of my life was a struggle to survive. But it’s what makes me who I am today. Each one of these events built my personality.”
Osimhen never gave up on his dreams and joined the Lagos based Ultimate Strikers Academy, where he was recommended to former national team forward Emmanuel Amunike, then the coach of the Nigerian U17 side, the Golden Eaglets. Although his rise since has been meteoric, his journey was again not without difficulties.
Off the field at Wolfsburg, he started his life in Saxony by buying a house for his family with his first salary. On the field, however, his first 18 months with the Wolves were a failure due to a lack of confidence, injury issues and struggling to adapt to a new environment. After 14 games in all competitions, he had zero goals. Even worse, during a trip to his homeland in the summer of 2018 he contracted malaria, making him unavailable for pre-season and unfit to pass medicals with suitors Club Brugge and Zulte Waregem.
His salvation came in the form of another Belgian club, eventually moving on loan to Charleroi. The new fully fledged Super Eagle – having made his international debut against Uganda in November 2018 – took to this new league straight away, with five goals in his first five starts. Eight months in and Osimhen had managed 20 goals across all competitions, including the fastest goal in the history of the Jupiler Pro League. At the end of the 2018/19 campaign, Charleroi decided to buy the player for €3.5m, only to sell him a few weeks later to Lille for a significant markup price of €15m including bonuses. Adding to an already momentous summer, Osimhen was also called up by Gernoth Rohr for the African Cup of Nations, playing 45 minutes in the third place play off against Tunisia.
Having lost striker Rafael Leão to AC Milan and, more importantly, Nicolas Pépé to Arsenal, LOSC were in desperate need of a goalscorer. Fans did not really know what to expect from their new striker but his first game underlined the full extent of his potential. Speed, strength, accuracy, Osimhen showed it all against Nantes in August 2019, scoring a brace on his debut with Lille. Even better, his first four shots on target in Ligue 1 ended up in the back of the net as he became the first player to score in his first three Ligue 1 games with Lille in the last 50 seasons.
He also scored against Chelsea and at Valencia in the Champions’ League. His secret? Listening to advice from goalkeepers, watching videos of his idols Didier Drogba and Robert Lewandowski, hard work and trusting his instinct. By the end of 2019, he had 10 goals in Ligue 1, two in the Champions’ League and one more in the Coupe de la Ligue. Even at this early stage, Campos predicted his departure at the end of the season, expecting a big fee from a top club for Les Dogues’ number seven.
His prediction – or wish – turned out to be true. With the season ending prematurely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it didn’t take long for rumours to build. Liverpool? Real Madrid? Inter Milan? Italy was the final destination, Mount Vesuvius his new neighbour. For a fee of around €80m, Osimhen joined Napoli at the end of July. While it took him 19 minutes to score his first goal with Lille, he only needed eight minutes to bag a hat-trick with Napoli. A week later, three more goals. Of course, these were ‘only’ friendly games against teams in the third and fourth tiers of the Italian football, but what a way to introduce yourself.
On the bench for the first game of the Serie A 2020/21 season, he changed the momentum of the game after coming on against Parma. Napoli coach Gennaro Gattuso had nothing but positive words for his new signing: “Victor gave us depth and vivacity. He’s young but he’s mature. I know he’ll keep his feet on the ground and keep working. He has charisma, personality and is very smart. He did well to integrate into the team.” Osimhen’s first start came a week later, delivering a delightful assist for Piotr Zieliński in Napoli’s demolition of Genoa (6-0). His first goal contribution in the Italian top-flight, and surely not the last.
Life has tested Osimhen on multiple occasions, but fate seems to have been kind. However his career progresses in the coming months and years, one thing remains certain, ‘Humble Victor’ will always give it all, with a smile on his face. He’s come a long way from selling water bottles to the Lagos traffic.