AFCON: Will the real Victor Osimhen please stand up!

Let’s start from the beginning.

In 2015, Victor Osimhen won the Golden Boot after scoring a record 10 goals in seven games as Nigeria won the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile.

In 2023, Osimhen emerged Serie A highest goal scorer with 26 goals as he led Napoli to their first Scudetto in over 30 years. In November, the 24-year-old was ranked number 8 in the Ballon d’Or awards won by Lionel Messi. He also won the CAF Men’s Player of the Year, Nigeria’s first in 24 years.

But the Napoli and Super Eagles striker is not having the best of tournaments at the Africa Cup of Nations, Cote d’Ivoire 2023. He has scored one goal (first match against Equatorial Guinea), and has missed at least three big chances, in three matches for the Super Eagles of Nigeria.

Sometimes, his style of play in AFCON seems like he tries too much, and is letting the pressure of expectation from millions becloud his clarity to score goals – only one in three matches so far. Although he has been starved off some quality supply from his teammates, he also needs to work better on his positioning, and bury his chances like an assassin.

No doubt, he remains one of the best strikers in world football today. But on current AFCON form, Osimhen seems to showing so much bravado and physicality, but not enough technical mastery to complement his play. The Napoli man seems to be playing more with pressure and brute force rather than with skillful passion and heart.

I wrote about Osimhen’s playing style here. But here’s an update. He needs to increase his conversion rate – convert that unmistakable gait and feint into lethal guile and movement that can easily bend defenders and goalkeepers into submission; convert those raw braggadocio scoring opportunities into decisive goals.

If I were Jose Peseiro, I would tell him to go into the pitch and simply enjoy himself, playing football. He should remember the hungry Osimhen that came from the streets of Olusosun and conquered the global stage.

When Emmanuel Amuneke won the African Player of the Year in 1994, the Super Eagles won the AFCON. Starring in his first game of the competition, Amuneke scored the two goals that won the trophy for Nigeria. History beckons for another star, Victor Osimhen, first in the Round of 16.

In a recent interview, the Napoli and Super Eagles talisman said he wanted to write his own legacy at AFCON.

“It is a huge honour to be compared to some of our legends. It motivates me a lot. But what motivates me more is making my own way, achieving my own goals. I want to win the AFCON with my country and write my own legacy. All the greats in Nigeria have a title to their name and to be mentioned in that space I must win it, too,” he told Al Jazeera.

He is motivated alright and achieving his football goals. But he needs to create more memories at AFCON, by making or scoring goals for Nigeria, if they are going to stand any chance of winning the coveted trophy for the fourth time in history.

I’d leave Osimhen with an excerpt from the gem Brazilian great Ronaldinho penned to another football genius Lionel Messi in February 2022. The Brazilian asked his younger self to give a piece of advice to a younger Lionel Messi, and he wrote: “Play with happiness. Play free. Just play with the ball.”

Osimhen is no Ronaldinho or Messi, but he has a lethal foot. His teammates could also do better.

If all falls into place, maybe the Super Eagles striker can also add the Best Player of the AFCON tournament to his personal trophy cabinet.


  • Arukaino Umukoro

    Arukaino is an award-winning writer and journalist, a recipient of the CNN/MultiChoice Africa Journalist of the Year Awards (Sports reporting)

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Arukaino Umukoro

Arukaino is an award-winning writer and journalist, a recipient of the CNN/MultiChoice Africa Journalist of the Year Awards (Sports reporting)

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