Victor Osimhen won the Serie A championship with Napoli last season and was voted African Footballer of the Year in 2023, but the striker believes winning the Cup of Nations with Nigeria would be the pinnacle of his career.
“It would be one of the best moments of my life,” the 25-year-old told AFP in Abidjan, where the Super Eagles will play hosts Ivory Coast in their second group encounter at this year’s AFCON on Thursday.
“I have done that with Napoli, I have made history, but no matter what I do, no matter how many goals I have scored, to be able to win the AFCON, I would go a long way in my life but probably when I do that I am done,” he said.
“I am really looking forward to winning something with the Super Eagles.”
Osimhen is, unsurprisingly, the center of attention in the Nigerian team after his heroics with Napoli, where he scored 26 goals last season to lead them to their first Scudetto since 1990.
The eyes of Africa’s most populous nation, with over 220 million people, are on him, but he says he can manage the strain.
“I’ve always strived high as I grew up, and the pressure comes naturally. “I am the type of person who does not give up under pressure,” he remarked while speaking at the Nigerian team hotel overlooking Abidjan’s Cocody Bay.
“When I’m under pressure, I try to give my all and do well for myself.”
“So far, so good; I’ve been doing well for my club and country, which I believe is the most important thing,” said Osimhen, who beat Achraf Hakimi and Mohamed Salah to the African player trophy.
“Winning African Player of the Year is a goal for every young African player. For me to have won demonstrates the amount of effort I put in, the sweat, the tears.
“For me, it’s really a dream come true,” he said, seeming calm after finishing his interview with Togo’s 2008 African player of the year, Emmanuel Adebayor.
Kanu and Okocha as inspirations
The slender striker leads a Super Eagles squad brimming with offensive potential, and Osimhen hopes to lead them to their first AFCON title since 2013.
This would enable him to join Nigerian greats like as Nwankwo Kanu and Jay-Jay Okocha, the latter of whom was a member of the 1994 Cup of Nations winning squad.
“I used to talk to Nwankwo Kanu and Jay-Jay Okocha. I believe I owe a lot of my success to them, since they were an inspiration to me growing up,” said Osimhen, who was named best scorer at the 2015 Under-17 World Cup.
“To be up there in the same category as them — not that I am better than them in terms of football, but in terms of what I have achieved — I think is huge for me.”
Osimhen just signed a new deal with Napoli, where he claims he is delighted and has “a good relationship” with president Aurelio De Laurentiis.
Tournament to be proud of.
His prior AFCON experiences have been disheartening, as he played little when Nigeria placed third in 2019 with Odion Ighalo leading the attack, and he missed the 2022 edition entirely.
“When I visited in 2019, Ighalo was present. He is a big brother to me, therefore it was necessary for me to go through this learning process with him and get this experience,” Osimhen said.
“I was scheduled to be in Cameroon, but I got a face injury.
“Now I’m here.” It’s a dream come true for me. I don’t want to be the center of attention, although this is what many people say. I believe I’m more of a team player.
“I think we have the quality to make sure we have a very good tournament that we can be proud of.”
Osimhen scored as Equatorial Guinea held Nigeria in their first Group A encounter, adding to the pressure ahead of their match against the hosts.
“The first game was really disappointing,” he told reporters.
“Going forward we need to make sure we get it right in the next game, which is against a tougher opponent.”