Weekly Wonderkids: Episode 2

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One of Football Index’s unique attributes as a platform is that it allows traders to pick and choose which players to buy and sell, which to stockpile, and which to keep an eye on in the future. Traders can spot a promising footballer, buy stock in said player, and watch them flourish as the player’s profile grows on the world stage. If you truly believe that a teenage prospect who’s only registered a handful of substitute appearances will go on to become a Golden Boot winner, you have the power to put your money where your mouth is and add him to your portfolio.

Each Monday, Zach Lowy will analyze a new U-23 player who Football Index traders should consider buying in a new weekly series called “Weekly Wonderkids.” With this series, you’ll be able to discover which youngsters you should place your trust in – and money – and why.

Name: Victor Osimhen

Age: 20

Club: Lille

Introduction

From battling relegation to finishing second, it’s been a volatile two years for Lille, who currently find themselves 8th in Ligue 1 – six points behind 2nd-placed Marseille – and bottom of their Champions League group. One can attribute this drop in form to their questionable transfer window, which saw Nicolas Pépé, Rafael Leão and Thiago Mendes depart for three of the four most expensive fees received in the club’s history.

It’s a case of quality over quantity; Yusuf Yazıcı and Timothy Weah have failed to replicate Pépé’s impact, whereas Renato Sanches and Benjamin André are struggling to fill Mendes’s shoes. But while Leão continues to lag behind Krzysztof Piątek in Stefano Pioli’s pecking order at Milan, Osimhen has announced himself as one of the breakout stars of the season at Lille.

As Jonathan Ikoné and Jonathan Bamba struggle to recover last season’s form without Pépé, Osimhen has taken the goalscoring responsibility of the team on his shoulders, having already netted more goals than Leão managed over the entire course of last season. But while this is the season that catapulted him onto newspaper headlines and Champions League nights, Osimhen first revealed his star potential four years ago, in the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup.

Record-breaking Dominance in Chile

Osimhen grew up in the Lagos neighborhood of Olosun, home of the largest open-air dump in Africa, and helped his family stay afloat by selling bottled water on the streets. At a time when other strikers were gaining valuable training sessions and world-class coaching, Osimhen worked hard to make ends meet, following his mother’s death and his father’s dismissal from his job as a police officer. Nevertheless, he never gave up his dream of becoming a footballer, and in the U-17 World Cup, his dream finally came to fruition.

Alongside an attack featuring Samuel Chukwueze and Kelechi Nwakali, Osimhen scored in each of Nigeria’s matches to amass a total of 10 goals, powering the Golden Eaglets to the trophy as the Golden Boot winner. To this day, nobody besides Osimhen has ever netted double figures for their nation across a U-17 World Cup.

His goal-scoring figures propelled manager Samson Siasia to start him in next month’s U-23 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) Final, which would also be won by Nigeria. The likes of Inter, Dortmund and Arsenal showed a strong interest in the teenage striker, but it was Wolfsburg who managed to pry him away.

Struggles to Adapt in Germany

He officially joined the German club on January 5, 2017, but his start to life in Europe came to an abrupt halt just weeks later; the €3.5 million new arrival, who had completed surgery on his knee just two months prior, was forced to undergo a meniscal procedure that would rule him out until the penultimate Bundesliga match of the season.

Osimhen made his full debut nearly a year after joining, leading the line against Hannover. But he only managed two more starting appearances for Wolfsburg, with new manager Bruno Labbadia opting mainly for veterans as Die Wölfe waged another relegation fight. 

At 19 years old and with only 333 minutes of club football under his belt, Osimhen decided to head west for greener pastures, trying out for several Belgian clubs. Malaria had weakened his body to the point where neither Club Brugge nor Zulte Waregem were willing to take him on loan. Instead, it would be Charleroi who took a chance on him, signing him on loan with a purchase option for €3.5 million.

Resurrection in Belgium; Breakthrough in France

Osimhen took the opportunity by the scruff of his neck, scoring 19 goals in 30 appearances and winning Charleroi’s Player of the Season award. The club just barely missed out on a spot in the Europa League play-offs, after Antwerp came from behind to earn a spot in the ensuing qualifiers.

Nonetheless, this would not dissuade Lille from signing him to replace the departing Leão, and it’s thanks to this signing that despite a substandard start to the season, Lille still have a decent chance of beating out a staggeringly weak group of contenders and securing Champions League football for next season.

It didn’t take long for him to open his tally under Christophe Galtier, with the Nigerian scoring a brace on his Ligue 1 debut against Nantes. Another brace against Saint-Étienne soon followed, and by the end of November, Osimhen had already registered 9 goals and 2 assists. Perhaps most impressively, he’s done it in a Lille team that looks devoid of ideas going forward, last season’s counter-attacking demons withering into a stale, overly conservative side that fails to strike the same fear into defenders. That’s the kind of player Osimhen is though – a natural born killer who only needs a half-chance to bring home all three points.

Apart from carrying Lille up top, Osimhen has also filled the sizeable shoes of Odion Ighalo, who retired from international duty after last summer’s semi-finals exit. During last month’s qualifiers for the 2021 AFCON, Osimhen netted the equalizer against Benin and fired in a brace against Lesotho, as the Super Eagles retained leadership of Group L.

Plotting his next big-money move

His performances in the league and Champions League have brought about several potential suitors, such as Barcelona, who will be on the lookout for a long-term replacement for Luis Suárez next year. José Mourinho, who frequented Lille matches prior to replacing Mauricio Pochettino as Tottenham manager, has been rumored to be interested in signing him as competition for Harry Kane. The Special One already raided Les Dogues last month, adding Nuno Santos and João Sacramento to his technical staff in London. Should Kane’s ankle injuries continue to resurface, Mourinho may have no other choice but to sign the 20-year-old forward to reinforce his attacking options.

Less likely is a move to Real Madrid, which Osimhen previously admitted to being the “club of his dreams.” Nonetheless, if Osimhen can keep up his red-hot performances into the new year, expect him to be one of the hottest items on next summer’s market.

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