Nigerian striker Victor Osimhen’s goals fired Napoli to their third Serie A triumph after 33 years. Here, ‘TANA AIYEJINA takes a look at the grass-to-grace story of the Scudetto winner
In Naples, Italy, Victor Osimhen is adored, hero-worshipped and loved.
Kids line up, singing the praises of the Napoli striker on the streets of the port city, home of the latest Serie A champions.
During the Naples carnival in February, the kids embodied the Nigerian’s looks, ‘blacking up’ their skins and dressing like him, wearing his trademark mask, which he wears since sustaining a facial injury in 2021.
His mask is used to beautify cakes in the city and fans queue up to buy them in their numbers outside Napoli’s home ground, the Diego Armando Maradona stadium.
A song in his honour by Italian musician Alex Garini, celebrating his goal-scoring heroics, went viral three months ago.
The world’s best football experts have hailed him as one of the best strikers — alongside Erling Haaland, the Manchester City forward — in modern football.
All the big clubs in Europe want him in their ranks.
Truly, Osimhen has been in blistering form this season, banging in the goals for Napoli, 26 overall — 22 in 27 Serie A games and four in the Champions League — which has defined Napoli’s season.
He is not just a scorer, he is a hard worker who plays for the team, defending deep and providing assists for his teammates — four so far — and preferring other players to handle penalty duties and also score goals, which has endeared him to the fans.
And in typical fashion, he pulls off his mask to celebrate and identify with the fanatical Napoli ultras.
His partnership with Georgian forward Kvicha Kvaratskhelia has had a devastating effect on defences, with both strikers having a combined 40 goals in Serie A and the Champions League, where Napoli crashed out in the semi-finals to local rivals AC Milan.
On Thursday, Osimhen’s equaliser against Udinese in a 1-1 stalemate handed Napoli their first Scudetto after a 33-year wait to spark up rapturous celebrations in Italy, with one fan reported dead and “a few others” injured.
The Neapolitan had never had it so good, since the era of the great Argentine, Diego Maradona, who led them to their only previous triumphs in 1987 and 1990.
Osimhen, the Lagos boy, who once lived close to a rubbish dump and chased vehicles selling sachet water, popularly known as ‘pure water’ to earn a living, had suddenly transformed into a hero on foreign land.
Growing up, Osimhen’s family could only afford one of the many makeshift houses — declared illegal by the Lagos State Government — around the popular Olusosun rubbish dump, noted for its emission of thick smoke, foul smell and routine fire outbreaks.
The 100-acre Olusosun landfill, which reportedly receives up to 10,000 tons of rubbish each day, is regarded as one of the largest dump sites in Africa. And it’s also a hideout for criminals, who conceal dangerous weapons and hard drugs inside the massive garbage.
At a young age, Osimhen, the last child of seven siblings, lost his mother, while his father lost his job, leaving him and his siblings in the dark world of uncertainty.
Insecurity, poverty and the perennial fear of eviction by the Lagos State Government starred his family in the face.
Just like his never-say-die attitude on the pitch, he didn’t give up.
He sold sachet water on the ever-busy Lagos roads but kept an eye on football, playing the game on streets in his neighbourhood, as well as joining the youth side Ultimate Strikers Academy.