Victor Osimhen – Player Analysis by Youssef Maaoui
As it has always been, the amount african born talents remains extremely big, and at this rate it doesn’t look like they will ever cease to emerge. The continent has produced some the best and most unique talents generation after generation. In these past two decades especially, players have entered the world of football from Africa possessing various impressive football skills such as Riyad Mahrez’s amazing dribbling, Samuel Eto’o’s incredible précise finishing ability/shooting and silky movement and George Weah’s freak athleticism amongst the extremely vast lists of mesmerizing African players. As we can see, this large continent has introduced us a large number of fantastic players over the years, and one player I really feel has the potential to captivate the whole footballing world and write his name in African football history is Victor Osimhen, the 6’3 Nigerian prodigy that has drawn multiple comparisons to the likes of Didier drogba and gained praise by numerous fans of the game.
The 22 soon-to-be 23 year old is expected to have a big impact on Napoli’s season after a relatively disappointing 20/21 campaign, not due to performances but mainly because of issues dealing with the COVID-19 virus, and shoulder injuries that have riddled his unfortunate first season. But with Gatusso off the books, Napoli’s Aurelio De Laurentiis has brought in known managerial figure in Italian football Luciano Spalletti, who endured successful spells with empoli and more recently Inter Milan and AS Roma to compete for a spot in the ucl next season and to potentially take the highly touted Osimhen to the absolute next level.
Victor Osimhen was born in Lagos, Nigeria. And from the beginning, he was fascinated by then Chelsea superstar and fellow African Didier Drogba. He expressed his admiration for the player in an ESPN interview in October 2015 saying : “Didier Drogba is my role model. He represents the kind of player and person I’d like to be. I hope to develop the same ability to use the ball and score important goals. He’s an icon, a legend. I’d love to be able to play like him — or even better.”
Victor started his career at the Ultimate Strikers Academy, based in Lagos, Nigeria. In January 2016, after being noticed for his extremely promising performances at the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup, where he broke a long-standing record the tournament held by winning the highest goal scorer award with 10 goals, as well as winning the FIFA U-17 World Cup Silver Ball, Victor played a big role to make sure that the Nigeria under 17 squad 2015 were eventual crowned champion of the tournament. He eventually rose up the ranks and had committed to a pre-contract with VfL Wolfsburg, stipulating that he would officially join the club in January 2017.
Thé Nigerian had officially begun his senior career in Germany with VfL Wolfsburg in 2017, on May 13 of that year, Osimhen made his official debut for the club, coming on as a substitute in the 59th minute in a 1–1 draw against Borussia Mönchengladbach, and after being selected in 12 of the 17 match day squads for the first half of that 2017-18 season, he had finally earned his full Bundesliga debut on January 28th 2018 against Hannover, playing the full 90 minutes in their 1–0 win.
Following a season and a half at the German club, he moved to Belgian side Charleroi on loan in 2018–19, signed to replace Iranian striker Kaveh Rezaei.
It’s in this club where the wonder kid had scored the first goal of his senior career, with a backheel vs Waasland-Beveren in his full debut on the 22nd of September, but after a successful spell at the side scoring 20 goals in 36 games, he moved to Lille in July 2019. With the French side, he was nominated the league’s Player of the month in September, having had 4 goal contributions in 5 games and stellar performances across the board. He had also scored in that same season his first UEFA Champions league goal on October 2nd 2019 in a 2-1 defeat to North London side Chelsea at Lille’s Stade Pierre Mauroy. The Lanky Marksman finished as Lille’s top scorer with 13 goal in 25 matches in the league, and 18 across all competitions. His stellar performances have been rewarded on June 2nd 2020, with him being nominated and winning Club Player of the Season, getting the most votes from fans.
After a stellar 19/20 campaign, Osimhen was being targeted by numerous big clubs, notably Manchester United and Chelsea. However he opted for Italy, transferring to Serie A club Napoli for a club-record fee of €70 million. Under legendary italian midfielder Genarro Gattusso, Victor had scored his first goal for the Naples based club on October 17th 2020 in a 4-1 win against Atalanta after a streak of very good performances against the likes of Parma and Genoa, in which he had gotten an assist against the latter. However unfortunately, after producing good performances for the club before the international break started, notably against Bologna in which he scored the only goal in a 1-0 win, the striker had unfortunately gotten a shoulder injury in an AFCON qualifying game played against Sierra Leone whilst on the international break with his country, (in which he still managed to be on the score sheet, scoring twice before the unfortunate injury). And the streak of bad luck still continued, because while he was recovering from said injury, Napoli had authorized Victor to spend time in his home land of Nigeria where he got to stay with his family and the chance to celebrate his birthday with his loved ones. It is said that during these birthday celebrations, The player had contracted the COVID-19 virus as he was tested positive upon his arrival at Naples. The virus as well as the injury had kept him away from the sport for around 2 and half months and disrupted his rhythm and the form he was going in.
Despite that, Osimhen finished the season on a high note, scoring 7 and assisting 2 in his last 11 games of the league season. Finishing the campaign with 10 goals and 3 assists in 16 starts in Serie A. Earning the managers’ praise along the season, the Italian said : “Victor was my wish, and I thank the President for having satisfied me. It wasn’t easy, but we have bought a player who is very important to us.”
Player’s position, strengths, and attributes
Victor Osimhen is a very athletic, fast and imposing striker that combines lightning fast turn of pace when he gets going in long distances. Smart, sneaky off of the ball movement by staying off of the shoulder of defenders and very strength that makes him win most ground duels and a decent amount of aerials, making him a useful option for long balls directed to him (especially with the way Luciano Spalletti plays). Allowing a great amount of space for teammates to run into by attracting opposition by his imposing stature and moving the opponent by smart decoy-runs. As well as elite pressing and defensive discipline that aids the whole team to put pressure on defenders and force them into mistakes. With all of this in mind, we can say that Victor is a very dangerous player to play against and a nightmare for certain defenders . At Lille The Nigerian has been mainly used in a double strike force in a 4-4-2 , forming an extremely explosive partnership with Loïc Rémy or as the sole striker in a 4-2-3-1 under then LOSC manager Christophe Galtier, and in a 4-2-3-1 As well as a lone striker under Genarro Gatusso.
Victor Osimhen is mainly used as an On-the-box poacher, not contributing to much of the team’s general play and doesn’t look to combine with teammates and drop deep into space to dictate play, instead he’s being used to his strengths, staying on the last line of the defense,occupying center backs and providing a very big on-the-box presence, ready to pounce on any loose touches by opponents and always being in high value positions.
Here is his 20/21 season heat map provided by the Sofascore app:
Elite goalscoring instinct / on the box movement
One Victor Osimhen’s main strengths is the way he operates and moves around the box, as I’ve already mentioned. He’s proven to be one of the best poachers in the league and has shown unusual goalscoring instinct for a player so young. This can be proven statistically with his fantastic underlying stats.
As we can see, in the 20/21 Osimhen shot map, that the striker takes most of his shots in high quality positions, almost all in and around the box. With 3.64 total shots per 90 minutes and and with around 1.5 of them on target, Osimhen ranks in 92 percentiles amongst strikers in the top 5 leagues on both categories according to FBref.com, demonstrating unusually good shot selection for a player of his age. But to be able to shoot from such good angles, you need to be consistently spotted in great positions, and moving around high danger zone areas. Thanks to his positioning and slick movement in and around the box, Osimhen consistently proves to be a great outlet for teammates to pass to, knowing that it would be a high value chance in the process.
The player ranks in 85 percentile for xG with 0.56 p90 and in the 92nd percentile for npxG amongst strikers in the top 5 leagues with 0.56 as well. All around fantastic potential as a poacher.
And furthermore, when you actually compare The Nigerian’s production to u23 forwards around the top 5 leagues, it becomes even more impressive.
Standing alongside the likes Erling Haaland, Kylian Mbappé, Alexander Isak and the likes of Lautaro Martinez & Yusuf Yasici. The Forward is in elite company.
And his Lille days are just as eye-catching in terms of raw numbers and underlying stats:
Consistently ranking in the top percentiles in terms of statistics that represent the ability to actually poach, the worry of the lack of sample size to judge his goalscoring disappears, as he’s done it for 3 clubs straight.
Elite speed and deep running
You cannot talk about Osimhen’s strength without mentioning speed, thanks to his raw power and explosiveness, the player can showcase consistent bursts of acceleration and can be extremely deadly in D-A transitions. In a foot race, there is a very little chance of any defenders in the league beating him. We’ve seen this consistently in moves for both Lille and Napoli. Here’s an example:
Here’s an example of his goal against Nantes in 19/20 where his excellent burst of speed in transition is at full stretch. Osimhen first make a a diagonal run, and thanks to his positioning in between the two defenders, and on the shoulder of the left center back (as mentioned at the beginning of the piece) he offers himself in a zone to penetrate the defensive third of the opponent. And with a brilliant long ball, Jose Fonte finds the striker. And with a brilliant touch that set up his momentum to go on goal, Victor Osimhen set himself up in a 1v1 foot race against the Nantes center back, knowing that he excels at that. And the sheer difference in power and speed was shown, looking like he flew in a second right to the goal line, where he eventually netted a brilliant goal on his debut.
As we’ve already mentionned in this article, Osimhen’s pressing is right up there with some of the very best in the world. With 18 pressures overall p90 and around 11 of them being in the attacking third, The player touted as “the next Didier Drogba” ranks in the 83rd and 98th (!!) percentile amongst strikers in the top 5 leagues in the metrics respectively. His pressing and overall defensive discipline (around 2 tackles+interceptions p90, 90th percentile), is so good that it can become a means of chance creation in a way. Ranking in the 99th (!) percentile in SCA (shot-creating-actions) via defensive actions, with 0.40 p90 which is absolutely ridiculous, and in the 96th percentile in GCA (Goal-Creating-Actions) According to FBref. Simply a player that would thrive in any counter-pressing system that emphasizes on positional defending or a gegen-pressing one like klopp’s, emphasizing on zonal defending instead.
Despite having a good eye for spotting good and interesting passes in the attack, the Nigerian is usually let down by his overall execution, which becomes even worse in the final third when being pressured.
He is also relatively uninvolved in teams’ general play, with only 14 passes attempted and barely 0.6 progressive passes p90, the super eagles’ forward needs work on his combination play with teammates, clearly not a player to drop down and ducted play from half spaces yet. There is still a lot of room for improvement of course!
Victor Osimhen is one of the most exciting and most unique talents that have come over the past 5 years. And his rise from a relatively unsuccessful spell at Wolfsburg to becoming a highly sought after prospect worth a grand total of 70 million just shows his resilience to bounce back from tough moments and I am sure that he will use his injury riddled 20/21 as motivation to become even better, despite another rocky start to the 21/22 season with a red card against Venezia in the first game of the season. With already 12 caps and 6 goals to his name on the national stage, the youngster is on route to come after all that he is expected to achieve. Following his journey would be exciting to say the least, seeing that he would be a fantastic addition to many teams around Europe.