Napoli’s new €81m signing, Victor Osimhen has given an insight into how he rose from the gutters of Lagos to become the costliest African footballer ever.
On Friday, Napoli officially announced the signing of the Super Eagles striker from Ligue 1 side, Lille on a five-year deal worth €81 plus add-ons. A deal that will see the Nigerian earn between €4m and €4.5m per season.
But Osimhen told Elegbete TV how he bulldozed his way from the extreme poverty of his youth to the top of world football. He is currently one of the best strikers on planet Earth.
Life had dumped him and his family at the Olusosun dumpsite in Lagos, where he struggled with his father and six siblings, after the death of their mother, against hunger, insecurity and the health and environmental hazards posed by their dirty surroundings.
The 100-acre Olusosun landfill is one of the largest dumpsites in the world. A haven for criminals, who hide dangerous weapons and hard drugs there.
The place is notorious for its emission of thick smokes, nasty smell and intermittent fire outbreaks.
But amid all these challenges, Osimhen remain undaunted, even after his father lost his job. To survive and support his family, he hawked water, popularly known as ‘pure water,’ on the streets of Lagos.
He said, “I come from a place where so many dreams have died but I’m the kind of person who doesn’t give up irrespective of my situation. So, I was forced to go out and get myself a life.
“In Lagos, they sell water (bottle or sachet) which is the easiest, but the hardest because you have to run and give somebody the water and collect money.”
Perhaps those runs helped shape him for world football.
Apart from hawking, he played street football when he had the time, although the latter did not put food on the table.
Somehow, he got the chance to turn around his life and that of his family when he caught the attention of the country’s U-17 coaches and scouts, who selected him for the 2015 U-17 World Cup in Chile.
“Getting into camp was a different life, a different story, Osimhen said.
“When we got to the FIFA Goal Project pitch in Abuja (where the U-17 officials were screening players), there was a huge crowd, it was like two million players. I thought, ‘how can this man (coach Emmanuel Amuneke) see me when some players had been there for several days?’
“The screening was just for 15 minutes. Amuneke said if you’re talented, you don’t need one hour to show it. ‘In 10 minutes, if you show what you’ve got, you can be in the team,’ he said. And I said, ‘no problem, let’s go.’ In a spate of 15 minutes, I scored two goals. But the coach was so tired and said, ‘just go.’ He chased everyone out. I told the person who brought me, ‘I came to Abuja to do my bit but I wasn’t picked, I think we should go back to Lagos.’
“But the team doctor told Amuneke, ‘I think you should try the guy on green.’ That’s me they didn’t know my name. When he (Amuneke) called me, he said, ‘don’t you eat, why are you like this?’
“He told me to sit down and I was happy. Then I played against the main team in camp and I was fighting really hard, giving them problems.
“After screening, the coach told some players to go but asked me to come back the following day. And he fell in love with me. The final day I was picked, the U-15 players at the Goal Project were very happy for me.”
It was a selection that the country lived to gain from. Osimhen later led the Golden Eaglets to a record fifth U-17 World Cup triumph, scoring 10 goals. It was the highest ever at the tournament. Winning the Golden Boot and Silver Ball in the process.
He was also named CAF Youth Player of The Year for 2015.
That feat did not escape the notice of European clubs. German side, Wolfsburg quickly signed him.
But his stint at the Bundesliga club did not go as wished. “When I was at Wolfsburg. It was really a tough period for me and at some point, I started doubting my abilities.
“I had thought that everything was going to be smooth after my days with the Golden Eaglets but I thank God for the experience I went through at Wolfsburg and it made me realise that life is not that easy as it seems,” he said.
“I never give up in life no matter the situation or where I am and that gave me the zeal and momentum no matter what life throws at me.”
He moved on from his Wolfsburg experience, where he made just 12 Bundesliga appearances and scoring no goal, to Belgian side Sporting Charleroi, where he scored 20 goals in 36 games in the penultimate season.
That turned out to be the start of his meteoric rise to the top of world football. He had joined Charleroi after Zulte Waregem and Club Brugge, who had shown interest in him, declined to sign him at the end.
Last year, the striker joined Lille for €12m and scored 18 goals with six assists in 38 games across all competitions. He was voted the club’s Player of The Year and also scooped the Marc-Vivien Foe prize for the best African player in Ligue 1.
At giants, Napoli, where the legendary Diego Maradona also played, Osimhen will wear the famous No.9 jersey at the two-time Italian champions next season.
“We are very happy at Osimhen’s arrival,” Aurelio De Laurentiis, Napoli president, said on Radio Kiss Kiss.
“The young man has been enchanted by Partenope. He will wear the No.9 jersey.
“(Gennaro) Gattuso (Napoli manager) really wanted to sign Osimhen. (Director of sport Cristiano) Giuntoli did a great job because the lad changed his agents during the negotiations.
“We don’t have to expect everything and immediately, even if he doesn’t score 25 or 30 goals, but he should express himself well in this extraordinary team and also make the other Azzurri score.”
Osimhen himself tweeted this on Friday about the next level in his career, “The next chapter @Napoli is a very exciting one and I can’t wait to get on the pitch with the team. I want to thank the fans for the past few weeks. I will definitely give my all on the pitch for the common good of the club.”