Victor Osimhen: The next African to set the UCL on fire?

In the first few weeks of the European football season, there is always a new name that catches the attention of the world. This year, the name on everyone’s lips is that of Nigerian youngster Victor Osimhen, and with the UEFA Champions League group stages looming it seems that he has only just got started.

Osimhen first gained public attention in 2015 when he was the star of the FIFA U17 World Cup, winning the Golden Boot and scoring ten goals in seven matches. Nigeria beat West African rivals Mali in the final as Osimhen scored the opener in a 2-0 win. His height, speed, movement, finishing ability, and overall physical power made him a nightmare for opposition centre backs, and Osimhen used this to its full potential at that level.

After the tournament, he made the big move to Wolfsburg and it was believed to be only a matter of time before he delivered in the Bundesliga. Unfortunately, the chances never came for him. His partial reliance on physical prowess contributed to his slow start at the senior level, as he was unable to bully the more developed defenders the way he had at the U17 level.

His time at Wolfsburg was also marred by injuries, as he missed a large part of his initial season with a meniscus injury. In his sixteen appearances in Germany, he played just 363 minutes averaging 22 minutes per appearance, and of these sixteen appearances, only eight were in his preferred position of centre forward, with the rest coming out wide.

It became clear that Osimhen would need a loan move to develop properly into the player that he showed glimpses of during the U17 World Cup. His destination would be Charleroi, a club not known for being a powerhouse of Belgian football but a solid team in one of the best leagues for youth development. The move would prove to be productive, as Osimhen scored twenty goals in 36 appearances for the Zebras, spearheading them to a solid 9th place finish.

This form caught the attention of LOSC Lille, a team in desperate need for a new goal threat following the departures of Nicolas Pepe and Rafael Leao. After capturing the world’s attention with a scintillating attacking style and a sporting director in Luis Campos who has an incredible eye for talent, they placed their faith in the relatively unproven Victor Osimhen to lead the line for them in a season where they will still be in UEFA Champions League contention. While it is still early days, the move appears to be paying off as Osimhen has bagged five goals in four games in Ligue 1 for the Mastiffs.

This week, Osimhen is in line to make his UEFA Champions League debut against Ajax – another club that captured the imagination of the footballing community with an exciting attacking team last season. This game, combined with a blockbuster tie against Chelsea later in the group stage, has the potential to provide the springboard to catapult Osimhen into superstardom.

In terms of his qualities as a player, Osimhen should be well built for Champions League football. For Lille, many of his goals have been as a result of catching the opposition on the counter as he finds space between the backtracking defenders. While they will compete against far stronger teams in Europe, this may play into Lille’s hands as they will have more opportunities to play on the break rather than having to break down deep defenses. With their speed and technical qualities out wide, particularly from Ikone, Bamba, Yazici, and Araujo, Lille should be able to soak up pressure before exploding on the break and hopefully finding Osimhen in the box where he can do the business.

Another trait of his form so far is his first touch. Despite an unorthodox technique, largely due to his lanky frame, most of Osimhen’s Lille goals have come as the result of a perfectly weighted first touch to set himself up. These have come from receiving passes from all different angles, including a powerful cross from Celik on the right wing vs St. Etienne and a long pass from deep which he controlled with his chest before firing the ball into the net. Aside from his recent tap-in vs Angers, Osimhen has shown an ability to rifle the ball into the goal with extremely high accuracy and power. What remains to be seen is if this is just a purple patch as he is massively outperforming his expected goals, however at 0.58 expected goals per 90 minutes he should still continue to score at a decent rate even if it does slow down.

If Osimhen can refine his all round game and continue to score for fun, by next summer he will be one of the hottest properties in world football.