Lille fans were left in anguish when their jewel attacker-Nicolas Pepe left the French club to join Premier League side, Arsenal. And when the Ligue 1 side signed Nigerian international, Victor Osimhen, they felt he was not the kind of player that could fill Pepe’s shoes but Osimhen answered with a brace in his first game. The big question, however, is whether he could keep on his goal scoring form to match his predecessor’s 22 goals haul of last season
Victor Osimhen announced his arrival in Ligue 1 with a brace for Lille against Nantes on Sunday despite having trained for just five days with his new mates. The 20-year-old Super Eagles forward showed his control and speed in the 19th minute when he outran Molla Wague and placed his shot past Alban Lafont.
Osimhen then crashed a shot from the tightest of angles with 10 minutes left on the clock to score the winner after Nantes had earlier equalised in the 51st to the relieve of Lille fans and Manager Christophe Galtier, who acquired the Nigerian for 12 million Euros.
Osimhen had been expected to struggle to fill the shoes of Pepe this season but the new arrival showed no signs of any pressure with both goals in his club’s weekend win and is now being hailed a potential new star in French football.
Lille, who were second in Ligue 1 last season on the back of Pepe’s 22 goals, opened their campaign with a 2-1 home victory over Nantes as Osimhen scored in both halves. The 20-year-old is set to become a new cult figure in Ligue 1 after making an immediate mark.
Osimhen has been all smiles since. “I feel very good, I have been waiting a long time since I arrived here and I felt it was important to make a successful debut. Ligue 1 is a big jump up for me, I think it’s one of the best leagues in the world.
“When I get opportunities on the field, I do not want to miss them. I am not yet 100 per cent but I train hard and I know that with time I will be at the top physically,” he told reporters after the match.
Osimhen was linked with several European clubs before Lille paid 12 million Euros to Sporting Chaeleroi to move the Nigerian to France for a new transfer record by the Danish-based club, breaking the six million Euros fee they were paid by Pyramids of Egypt to sign Cristian Benavente.
Inter Milan once contacted Osimhen’s representatives about a possible deal as a replacement for former captain Mauro Icardi who was involved in a row with the club after he was stripped of the captain armband and his relationship with the management have hit rock bottom levels.
The deal however encountered some complications as Charleroi are willing to use every means available to trigger the clause of buying him permanently before selling him for a hefty profit and also a percentage of his future sale.
Wolfsburg, on the other hand, wanted the striker back after his loan spell but it is believed they want to trade him off as their player to recoup some of their investment in the player they signed in 2015 following his exploits at the U-17 World Youth Championship.
His impressive form earned him a recall to the Super Eagles squad for the 2019 Nations Cup qualifier against South Africa and he also started in 0-0 friendly draw against Uganda in Asaba.
“My confidence level was very low at some point and what going out on loan to Charleroi has done for me is unexplainable,” Osimhen said.
“It was tough in Germany because of the high expectations – some people started doubting me and also pushed me to start doubting myself as well.
“The football in Belgium has helped, I also have a wonderful group of players around me and the coaching crew have been great with me.
Osimhen was the top scorer as Nigeria clinched a fifth U-17 World Cup title in 2015 with 10 goals in Chile, which saw him win the Golden Boot and Silver Ball.
After the tournament he decided against joining English side Arsenal, to sign with the 2009 German champions Wolfsburg in January 2016, but injuries restricted him to 16 appearances for the club in all competitions.
Despite being a part of the squad for two years, his lack of games meant he missed out of the 2018 World Cup with Nigeria.
On the back of his impressive performance at 2015 U-17 World Cup with the Nigerian emerging the top scorer to claim both the Golden Boot and Silver Ball, the attacker joined the former German Bundesliga champions.
However, the 19-year-old failed to settle into the Wolves’ senior set-up amid injury struggles and was shipped on loan to Charleroi last summer.
Since moving to Belgium, the youngster has rediscovered his form.
Osimhen scored 19 goals in 34 league appearances last season, including the playoffs to finish as the highest-ranked Nigerian player in the European Golden Shoe rankings with 28.5 points.
The French league appears to have a higher profile than the Belgian league and it is one in which Nigerian players shone like a million stars in recent past.
Peter Odewingie had a bumper season in Lille as well scoring 23 goals in 75 games between 2004 and 2007, while John Utaka, 24-year-old at the time, became only the third player along with Juste Fontaine and Michel Platini to score consecutive hat-tricks in 74 years of top-flight football in France in 2006 while playing for Rennes.
Now Osimhen wants to follow in the footsteps of these greats.
In 2016, Osimhen turned down a move to Arsenal after Arsene Wenger had revealed he was close to bringing him to the Emirates, but his family and representatives chose the German club ahead of the Gunners.
“It’s true that a big team like Arsenal wanted me and I feel honoured to be invited over. But personally I feel Wolfsburg is a ladder for me to reach my professional goals,” Osimhen had told BBC Sport.
“Yes Arsenal is a good team for young players but Wolfsburg is the best club for me. This the best place for me to learn and develop because my heart is here with Wolfsburg. The club’s plan for my career is very encouraging and I believe with God on my side I can grow to become one of the best players in the world,” he had revealed then.
His impressive showing for the club also helped him make Nigeria’s 23-man list to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt, in which he made just one appearance for the Super Eagles in the competition as the Gernot Rohr’s team progressed to win the bronze medal.