By Bunmi Blair
Bought for €70m plus another €10m in bonuses in the summer of 2020, he has managed to score just 2 goals in 16 appearances in all competitions so far. Critics are beginning to find their voices and will surely find more time to analyze Victor Osimhen’s situation if things don’t start to change for the better. It is an understatement that the Nigerian-born striker is finding it difficult to settle down in his first season in the Italian Serie A.
Who is Osimhen?
Osimhen is a predator that thrives on counter-attacking football. He is at his best when isolated with one or two defenders with a lot of space to run into. His pace, quick change of direction on those incredibly long legs, ability to shoot without prior warning, are his weaponry.
Most times, defenders resort to fowling him when they realize he is got space because they know they will come out second best on a foot race with FIFA 2015 U17 golden boot winner. Even when he is not racing at defenders, give him as small as two yards at a distance from 30yrds downwards, he will punish you. His strength is not in the power of the shot, but the accuracy in his delivery.
He is also powerful and fearless, can ram into a player as big as Van Dijk, and make him look paperweight (believe me). Osinhen’s attitude towards matches is faultless, he plays every game as if it’s his last, he hates to lose even in training. Like a sniffer dog on the run, he is capable of punishing defenders with erring passes, Osimhen is a modern-day predator, no wonder he had so many suitors (Liverpool, RB Leipzig, Barcelona, etc) before settling for Napoli last summer.
Two goals in 16 games?
So, why has the Lagos-born goal machine failed to deliver palliatives to the Napolitanos? A quick Google check of top 10 Serie A players of all time will give you a clue. According to bleacherreport.com, four out of 10 best Serie A players of all time are defenders, two more are goalkeepers…
Italian teams are known for their well-organized defensive structures, spaces are limited, defenders are tighter on the strikers and teams commit a lot of players to defensive duties. Unlike the EPL, LALIGA, or the French Ligue 1 where teams are scolded if they adopt defensive approaches to games. In Italy, teams are built on their defensive masterstrokes.
Most times when goals are scored in Serie A, you find out that there are still as many as six to seven players defending the box. So goals are squeezed out, either through deflections, sheer brilliance, set-pieces and even when goals are scored on the counter, you find out that the defending teams still had up to three to four defending players who were out paced on such occasions.
Build-ups are also slow, due to opponents defensive structures and these make things difficult for strikers like Osimhen who profits from chaotic situations which are less likely to happen in the Italian league compared to other top 5 leagues in Europe.
Even with his electrifying pace, multiple world’s footballer of the year, Cristiano Ronaldo is not finding it rosy in the league, because pace is mostly useful when there is space.
Was it a mistake for him to have joined Napoli? Probably yes, should he keep sulking about this mistake? No!
Osimhen will need to reinvent himself by adapting his game to his new environment. A quick Google search for the top 10 all-time best strikers in Serial A history will give you a clue to what is needed.
Filippo Inzaghi was the king at this, his ability to beat offside traps was legendary. He walks in behind defenders unnoticed, no wonder legendarily Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson once said:
“That lad [Filippo Inzaghi] must have been born offside.”
2. Aerial Dominance
A quick look at some of Serie A’s top scorers in history shows a great component of their game is hinged on their aerial prowess. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, David Trezeguet, Herman Crespo, Andriy Shevchenko all dominated the box aerially to their team’s advantage.
Osimhen at 1.86m needs to learn how to effectively use his height to the advantage of his team.
Players like Edinson Cavani was very successful with Napoli partly due to his fantastic positioning and awareness in the box. A striker needs to constantly change position and body alignment in relation to the position of the ball.
He should make it difficult for defenders to feel him.
Players who succeed in the Serie A have an unshaken mentality and tenacity. From Marco Tardelli to Javier Zanetti, Francesco Totti, Christian Vieri to Gabriel Batistuta or Genero Gatuso, Paolo Maldini to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, these guys don’t quit.
5. Napoli need to play to his advantage
Having spent a record €80m to acquire his services, Gattuso needs to make his team work for Osimhen.
He may have to ditch his slow build-up style and play a little more direct to sort of creating strategically orchestrated chaotic situations in the opponent’s vital area, from which Osimhen can profit.
Surely the world is waiting patiently for Osinhen to fulfill his potentials.
. Bunmi, an Abuja-based sports journalist, is a coach and an OAP