By Zayd Ibn Isah
4th May, 2023. This is a date that citizens of the Southern Italian City of Naples will never forget in their lifetimes. For, on this day, the entire city erupted with joy as its home football club, Napoli, won the Serie A title for the first time in 33 years.
This momentous triumph came after the club’s 1- 1 draw against Udinese at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona. Such was the fierceness of joys that after the game’s final whistle was blown, many Napoli fans ran onto the pitch to celebrate, with fireworks and flares being let off. Most of the players were even mobbed by fans in jubilant scenes!
The exuberant ecstasies of the Napoli fans can be understood. After all, they had waited so long for this incredible moment, such that when it finally came, their collective outpourings of joy could not be tamed or contained.
Now, for a bit of History as Napoli marks an epic milestone: Founded 25 August, 1926 — about 96 years ago, the club enjoyed relatively little success in its formative years, but saw their fortunes increase with the signing of Argentinian legend, Diego Armando Maradona.
Diego Maradona is unarguably Napoli’s all-time greatest player. He was not only integral to the club winning two league titles in the 1987 and 1990 seasons, but also helped them clinch their one-and-only UEFA trophy in 1989. This prompted the club to retire Maradona’s famous number “10” jersey and also name their stadium after him. Till today, Maradona’s mural in Naples is like a sacred memorial cum worship centre for the Neapolitans.
Alas, every happy story inevitably trudges to a sobering end. Diego Maradona’s departure after an undeniably, successful spell at the club translated into doom and decline for Napoli. The club struggled and underwent difficult times until it was re-established by its current President, Aurelio De Laurentiis. De Laurentiis’ take over of the football club was timely.
And he has succeeded in leading the club out of the woods. For Napoli, the glory days are not just back but have come to stay, due to the fact that the football club has found its place amongst the rank of elite teams in Europe.
And now, out of the fading shadow of Maradona, Napoli has found a new and inspirational hero.
Undeniably at the centre of Napoli’s recent success is their lethal world-class striker, Victor Osimhen. Shortly after Napoli broke the bank to sign Victor Osimhen for a club record fee of £80 million from French side Lille, some football analysts questioned the club owner’s decision. Fast-forward to today, and Victor Osimhen has proven his worth by leading Napoli to their first Scudetto in over three long decades.
He has done this by not only scoring 22 goals in 27 Serie A games, but also being essential to Napoli’s attacking strength this season. For all of this, Osimhen is set to become the first African to win the Serie A Golden Boot.
That’s not all. He currently holds the record for the most goals in a single Serie A season by any African player. And would it not be obvious at this point to add that he has secured a favoured spot for himself in the hearts and minds of Napoli’s truest supporters?
As much as Victor Osimhen’s meteoric rise in the global stage of the game is so inspiring, it’s important to note that it hasn’t been an easy ride to fame altogether for the young star. He first came to limelight after scoring a record 10 goals to lead Nigeria to her fifth FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2015.
But before that, the young Victor was just an ordinary boy living with his family in the slums of Olusosun. After his mother’s death, Victor’s father lost his job and just like that, hard times held the family tight. It wasn’t long before Victor and his siblings had to go about hawking wares like “pure water” sachets on the streets.
The one thing that shone for Victor from such a humble existence was football. Not the sport, not even the round leather ball. But rather, a way of life that has helped numerous young boys and girls get more out of existences already rigged against them. A way of life that inspires undaunting self-belief: “One day one day, me sef go dey ball like Maradona, Zidane, C. Ronaldo, Messi dem.”
Victor, like most boys his age, would have to watch football games from outside of viewing centres, too poor to afford a seat inside.
It is said that even as a teenager, Victor’s footballing skills would often draw him comparisons to Chelsea’s legend, Didier Drogba. Little did Victor know that he would come to reach the same heights as that storied striker, if not higher. His love for football was so absolute that it affected his education. Even Victor’s father had to admit that his youngest child was in a serious relationship with football.
Eventually, Victor showed something special enough for scouts to invite him to Ultimate Strikers Academy in Lagos, which led to him being selected for tryouts that would earn him a place in Nigeria’s Golden Eaglets squad.
Aside being pivotal to Nigeria’s U-17 World Cup triumph in 2015, Victor delighted football fans and sharp-eyed scouts alike. After scoring ten goals to clinch the Golden Boot and Silver Ball awards of that tournament, the young star of Victor grew, causing the name “Osimhen” to rise.
Understandably, there were fears that his football career would end as terribly as the likes of Macaulay Chrisantus, Femi Opabunmi, Stanley Okoro and others. It is no news that after impressive outings on the global stage, the majority of our country’s young talents tread paths which quickly or gradually veer from bright promise to pathetic dwindle. And although his career took a painful nosedive that seemed to head toward underwhelming disappointment, Osimhen stubbornly stuck to a disciplined course that would help him find his footing in Lille.
And now, this young boy from humble beginnings in Olusosun, Lagos, has just put his country’s name on the global map. The resounding chant of his name by Napoli fans in the stadium should give more than just goosebumps to the average Nigerian. “Victor! Osimhen! Victor! Osimhen! Victor! Osimhen!” More than the pride it bequeaths us as Nigerians, this chant should spur our sporting systems to always be on the lookout for young, promising talent.
But more importantly, it should awaken something fierce in the hearts of many young stars out there. To the ones battling with life and holding onto the hope football gives, it should excite undaunting self-belief: “One day one day, dem go shout my name for stadium like Osimhen.”
Now, here’s to hoping that so many of our professional footballers continue to impress on foreign territories, for their personal glory as much as the sweet sense of national pride. For now more than ever, Nigeria’s football team should stop riding on past glory. Now, the Super Eagles must become a force to be reckoned with again.
One of Osimhen’s favourite songs is “Sitting On The Throne”—a track by Nigeria’s King of Street-Rap, Olamide. Now, a “glorious child” (as Victor describes himself on social media) sits on a throne of deserved honour: undisputed striker, undeniable goalscorer, ultimate champion.
Congratulations, Victor Osimhen. Napoli has a new king, and he is proudly a Nigerian.