When Nigerian Victor Osimhen was sent off on the opening day of the Serie A season, it seemed the forward’s second year with Napoli was heading the same way as his first.
But ever since, the 22-year-old has been in sparkling form, much like his club who currently top the Italian league.
In his last five games, he has scored seven goals – a tally it took him 25 games to reach, and not until April, last season.
In a debut season hampered by injury, suspensions and coronavirus-related problems, Osimhen managed 10 goals, and three assists, from 30 games.
Now though, one of Europe’s hottest strikers is relishing giving back to a club which has not just invested in him financially but also psychologically.
“They trust me and stood by me through the tough start last season,” Osimhen told BBC Sport Africa. “The love I enjoy is massive – the club, the city, the supporters and everyone connected to Napoli makes me fly.
“I play for an incredible club with a huge football history. I only have to focus and give my best all the time.”
The striker’s goals have helped Napoli to an unbeaten start in Serie A, including six wins out of six in Serie A.
On Wednesday, the team suffered its first defeat since May when, a man down, they lost 3-2 at home to Spartak Moscow in the Europa League, despite another Osimhen goal.
Unburdened by expectation
It was July 2020 when Osimhen joined Napoli from French club Lille in July 2020 in a five-year deal that was reportedly worth more than $96m, although other reports put the figure closer to $80m.
His move to Italy came after a breakthrough year with Lille in 2019/20 which saw him win that season’s Marc-Vivien Foe award for the best African player in France’s Ligue 1, after he scored 18 goals in all competitions.
Osimhen is quick to play down reports that the huge fee weighed heavily on his shoulders at first, and is relishing his new status having completed his stratospheric rise from amateur to professional football in just six years.
“Of course I am happy to be among the most expensive African footballers in history,” he added.
“I really want to get higher in the colours of Napoli. It was a childhood dream to become a professional footballer. I never knew this transfer or something this huge was going to happen.
“I just wanted to succeed in football, and do well for myself, take good care of my family and my few friends.”
As well as his goals in Italy, Osimhen has impressed for Nigeria this season, scoring once in the 2-1 World Cup qualifying win away to Cape Verde to take his tally to seven goal in 14 internationals.
Five of those came as Osimhen finished joint-top scorer in the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying and he has since inherited the iconic number 9 shirt from retired Odion Ighalo.
While the former Wolfsburg and Charleroi striker has the utmost respect for Ighalo, he admits he draws his inspiration from Ivory Coast and Chelsea great Didier Drogba.
“My big brother and senior man Ighalo did well for Nigeria and even finished as top scorer at the last Nations Cup in Egypt,” said Osimhen.
“But I took Drogba as my role model while I was growing up and that has been the guiding light. I think watching him a lot and the kind of mentality he has in terms of football has really helped me a lot to get to where I am today.”
Osimhen burst into the spotlight at the 2015 Under-17 World Cup in Chile, as he clinched the Golden Boot and Silver Ball awards while steering the Golden Eaglets to the title.
The then-16-year-old scored a tournament-record 10 goals, netting in every one of Nigeria’s games, in a performance that helped earn him Africa’s Youth Player of the Year award for 2015.
Now two-time league champions Napoli are hoping his goalscoring exploits can help them build on their Coppa Italia triumph of last year.
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