The dream of most if not all Nigerlan footballers is to play for top clubs in Europe where they would be recognized and later called up to play for the Super Eagles. Victor Osimhen in particular is one of the Nigerian players who rose from playing soccer on the streets to playing for big clubs in Europe, and now, he is at SSC Napoli of Italy.
Born 29 December, 1998 in the Olusosun community of Lagos State, the striker who is Nigeria’s most expensive player, having joined Napoli for £74m has virtually seen it all in life. From battling hardship which saw him hawk sachet water on the streets of Lagos to his injury spell at Wolfsburg in Germany, Osimhen’s story is that of dedication, God’s grace and hard-work.
Complete Sports’ reporter, OLUYEMI OGUNSEYI recently visited the city of Ikorodu in Lagos State, to catch up with the striker’s older brother, Andrew Osimhen, who reveals a lot in this exclusive interview.
Complete Sports: You are already well known to us but for the sake of our readers, we will like you to give a proper introduction of yourself.
Andrew Osimhen: My name is Andrew Osimhen, the first born of the family. You know I just lost my dad a few months ago and I must tell you his death was devastating. At times, one is not prepared for leadership, it is not easy to attain such leadership of the family at this quite young age, but one can only depend on God.
I can’t even fill the gap which my father’s death created but I can only pray to God to help me, we are seven children in number and Victor is the last born.
We grew up in a very terrible condition and back then in Olusosun, it was just like all man for himself and I didn’t want Victor
to grow up in such situation.
The challenges were really tough and it is very painful that I lost my mother during that totally dificult period of which Viçtor was an extremely young boy. Since then, my father did not re-marry until he passed on to glory and I even credit him for that, he said he just couldn’t get to see someone like my mother.
How did football start for Victor osimhen?
Football started for Victor when I was playing with my peers. He and some of his age-mates usually played at the back of the goal-posts whenever we were playing.
After school hours, we used to return to the school field which was so big to play football and most times, Victor loved to come to the main field to play with us. But just because we were much taller and bigger than him and his colleagues, we never really paid attention to them not to talk of allowing them to even play with us.
But when coach Bakare who is now late formed a club named “The Young Shall Grow’ back then in Olusosun, I couldn’t fit into the
main team but I was still a player then.
Mostly, we normally carried the First Aid box to Igbobi to play and it was Paul Erikewe, Victor’s grassroots coach that was managing the young team in Olusosun.
At a point when things were so rough, I took it upon myself to stop playing football and faced my newspaper business just tokeep body and soul as well as the family.
And when my mum became late, I had to leave the Olusosun community because l knew that I was matured enough to stay alone and that was when I moved to Ikorodu.
l actually wanted Victor and his immediate older sister, Blessing, to follow me down to Ikorodu but the two of them who are ever so close to each other refused.
I wanted Victor to go to school, since I could not attend the higher institution because there was no support which made me to only finish my secondary school education.
I was really keen about him going to school but when he told me that some people were interested in taking him abroad to play football, I told him it was a very good idea.
Most importantly, though, he needs to go back to school because I had been hearing a whole lot of stories about scouts who took players abroad and dumped them there.
I was not too okay with the idea of somebody coming to take him abroad, I just told him he needed to go back to school after which Blessing bought JAMB form for him.
Victor was, however, adamant that he would never go to sit for his Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) exams so as to gain admission into the university.
I was furious with his decision because I felt that I as the first born of the family couldn’t go to the university but I felt my younger ones must achieve that feat.
He eventually did not go to the centre to write his JAMB exams, but I made him to understand that even if you want to play football, you have to attend the university. I also made him to understand that we are in a system where nobody would see you when you are hustling but they will only see you when you have made it in your career.
I had seen poverty in life and I had also seen the very rough and difficult ways a man grows on the streets of Lagos and I just didn’t want Victor to go through all that.
Basically, when did you now see that the time had come to support Victor in his football career? When did you see that he was going to become a superstar?
I never saw it and nobody even did because it was even difficult for him to buy some of his training kits such as boots which I did support him in buying sometimes.
Although, I must admit I was not too happy with his decision to play football because actually I saw it as a young boy who was wasting his time, I didn’t know his mind. As his older brother, I wanted him to achieve much more and that particularly was as a result of the fact that Victor was very brilliant when it comes to academics.
However, I noticed that he was so focused on becoming a professional footballer and
even when the football pitch in Olusosun was locked, he went to the Island to train.
All this went on until a particular day when my father called to tell me that some people were planning to come and see meas regards Victor’s football career.
There was this particular guy called Shira who said he was interested in becoming Victor’s manager and after signing some documents, he traveled down to Abuja.
And after about a month, he sent me some pictures of himself putting on the Nigerian national team jersey and I was so surprised that I asked him what was going on. He said they were in the Under-17 national team camp as the Golden Eaglets were preparing for a tournament, but I was still not convinced and that he must be careful.
After then, they went to Niger Republic to take part in the Under-17 African Cup of Nations before proceeding to the FIFA World Cup in Chile in the year 2015. I watched the whole of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup won by the Golden Eaglets and must admit it was a very good experience seeing one’s brother playing at that level.
And ever since then, I must tell you that it has beena very successful story for Victor in his football career and also for the Osimhen family at large.
Victor Osimhen was the Golden Boot winner at the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile with ten goals. What transfer offers came on board after his goal-scoring heroics at that level of world football?
Lots of offers all across Europe came for Victor Osimhen. Henry Makinwa who played for Inter Milan called me to ask about him, some people even came to see me in Ikorodu all the way from the United Kingdom.
They wanted me to convince my brother to sign for a club in England, they also wanted him to sign up with their agencies so as to manage his football career.
However, told them all that I couldn’t do anything without Victor’s consent, but I saw that these agents and scouts were offering a lot of inducements to people just to get my brother. I also made them to understand that I would never do anything at the back of Shira whom God sent to us to help Victor find a breakthrough in his football career.
Shira is just like the herbalists or prophets who see things way ahead of their occurences. He just saw the potential in Victor and made sure that my brother blew. It was just like a dream come true because nobody gave Victor an opportunity even in the Lagos State Junior League, they did not treat him well as they never saw it coming.
Victor Osimhen is the kind of person that if you are not extremely patient, you cannot manage him, those are the things Shira has, he was the only one who saw it coming.
So, which clubs came for Victor Osimhen then from Italy and England?
Back then in the year 2015, it was very challenging and like I said, there was a whole lot of inducements from these clubs but I made sure I never fell prey for them. You can’t just come and start giving me material things just like that, I need to ask you a few questions such as ‘why are you trying to give me this thing?’
Life in England is filled with luxury and flamboyance and Victor is someone I know very well as he is my younger brother, I needed him to be in a very cool atmosphere.
I wanted him to be in a city where it would be from training to his house and vice-versa as I felt the luxurious and flamboyant lifestyle
in England could make him lose focus.
There were offers from Wolfsburg in Germany, Arsenal in England and Anderlecht in Belgium, and after making spiritual/religious consultations as Africans, we were told to go to Germany.
And after which we visited Wolfsburg in Germany where I was totally in love with the environment. I must tell you that you would love your children to grow up in that city.
I also agreed to Victor joining Wolfsburg as I felt that he would not be carried away. We went there with the thought of negotiatin for a 1.5 million euro deal but we finally agreed on 3.5m euros.
When we were in Germany, some of the agents even came up with false stories in the newspaper, about my dad being beaten up by someone who was helping us to negotiate
just to win Victor over as they already had a transfer mandate on him.
But the next time Victor went to Germany, I made sure that my dad followed him when he wanted to put pen to paper on a deal with Wolfsburg, to avoid any such story again.
After his achievement at the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup, Victor Osimhen joined Wolfsburg where he spent two seasons. But from 2017 until 2019, Osimhen played 244 matches in all competitions for the German side. However, he failed to score a single goal. What do you think could have been responsible for his dip in form? Did he lose focus or was it just that he lost form totally?
A lot of people did not even know what happened to him, he suffered a very serious injury and had surgery which was hugely unsuccessful and had to undergo another one. We even had to travel down to Augsburg, another city in Germany for him to have the second surgery. I was opportuned to know about this because I was with him for two months.
I was with him from the theatre where he was operated upon until when the medics brought him to the hospital bed. And for about three to four days, he was just shedding tears. That was when I knew that players do pass through a lot of things when it comes to them having to go through a spell on the injury sidelines, I must admit that it was not easy.
He came back home on crutches after spending two weeks in the hospital, but after he got completely healed of the injury, Wolfsburg manager then was not fielding him on the pitch.
I was in Nigeria then, but all through the season, the coach was not giving him playing time, but when it came to Wolfsburg’s friendly matches, he was playing and scoring goals.
During the winter transfer window in January of the year 2018, Wolfsburg wanted to force him to join SC Rheindorf Altach in Austria on loan but my brother rejected, saying he preferred to remain in Germany.
To cut a long story short, when the 2018 summer transfer window opened, his former agent, Jean Gerard Benoit Czajka said he had a club for Victor in the Bundesliga 2, but he also turned it down.
Victor then brought up a talk of going to Switzerland to play two weeks before the transter window closed, but an offer came from Zulte Waregem in Belgium but he was down with malaria-typhoid.
But Shira convinced him to travel down to Belgium for talks with Zulte as it was very glaring that Wolfsburg didn’t need him, but he wasn’t feeling too fine and that is health-wise.
We heard a rumour back then that his rejection by the then Belgian Pro League Champions, Zulte was because he failed a medical test and he also failed to pass the trials.
Zulte actually offered to pay Victor Osimhen a much lesser wage than Wolfsburg were even paying him which he rejected and he planned to stay in Gérmany until his contract finished.
Three days left for the transfer window to close, another Belgian Pro League side, Club Brugge came for him, but they also offered to pay him a much lesser wage than Wolfsburg.
l advised him to forget about the low salary and join any of these Belgian clubs, Zulte Waregem or Club Brugge, so as for him to be playing on a regular basis, but he refused.
What did Victor Osimhen’s manager and agent say?
They all wanted him to join any of these clubs for constant game time but he said no. It was a day to the end of the 2018 summer window that he told me he was joining Sporting Charleroi.
Coach Mehdi Bayat was the one who directly demanded for Victor Osimhen and after Charleroi’s top striker had an injury, my brother was used in a match and he scored within the opening 15 minutes.
That was how he started scoring goals on a regular basis and he was helping Charleroi to beat the smaller teams while the club was also playing out draws with the top sides in the league. That was when he told me that AC Milan of Italy was trying to sign him from Charleroi for 15 million euros in the 2019 summer transfer window before Lille came to sign him.
Inter Milan also made an offer then, but he said that he was not interested in playing in the Italian Serie A due to the high level of racism in the European country. That was when the deal from Lille came in for him after the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations which took place in Egypt, but he was in Nigeria when the move was struck, he never wanted to go that very day.
How did the Victor Osimhen’s Lille deal come through?
When the Lille deal came, Victor never wanted to join the French side, he told Shira and a few others who were pressurizing him to move to France that he wanted to stay at Sporting Charleroi.
Everything that happened to him at Wolfsburg was still in his memory and he told me that it paid him to remain in the Belgian First Division A with Charleroi where he was really loved by fans. He even said that if he decided to join Lille and anything negative happened to his career, everybody who was giving him pressure to join the French Ligue 1 side would be held responsible.
Victor osimhen played only a cameo role with the Super Eagles at the 2019 AFCON in Egypt which could have dampened his spirit after had performed well at club level. How did you feel and how did you help to lift his spirit up?
We all were surprised too that Gernot Rohr did not use him except during the third/fourth-placed match against Tunisia but much respect to Odion Ighalo who was our top striker at the tournament. I feel that he should at least have been given about 40 per cent chance to prove what he was capable of and I sincerely think that he and Samuel Chukwueze’s combination would have been very good at the AFCON.
We are in the era of the young ones making things happen but I must tell you that Nigeria is a place where we don’t really give the youth a chance, I remember Ronaldo De Lima was on Brazil’s bench at USA 94.
But after watching those senior players do it for Brazil in the United States, Ronaldo shone four years later at France 98 despite the fact that the host team won the World Cup.
Brazil, however, won the competition which took place in Korea/Japan in the year 2002 with Ronaldo finding the back of the net on a regular basis, that’s the promotion of how the Brazilian team is.
I was also expecting such from our national team at the 2019 African Nations Cup in Egypt, we are in the era in Nigeria, though, when a player leaves the under-aged group, they say he is too young to play for the Super Eagles.
Whereas in Europe, the top clubs will use these young players who also go ahead to make a whole lot of impact on their respective teams but I was not really too angry with Gernot Rohr’s decision.
I just felt that with Ighalo being a much senior player and after his goal heroics for Nigeria during the AFCON qualifiers, the coach needed to respect him so much and field him a lot.
But most importantly, I just feel that Victor should have been given at least 40 per cent opportunity and I am very certain that he would have made a whole lot of changes in the team.
Also, with Ighalo being a fantastic striker, I believe Rohr should have experimented a little bit by using him and Victor together. With my brother’s energy and zeal, the two strikers would have made the team stronger.
Victor Osimhen joined Lille and he shone greatly, scoring 13 goals in 27 Ligue 1 matches while he netted 18 times and made six assists in 38 appearances in all competitions. Then, everybody knew that transfer offers were going to come his way which arrived but we heard Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United and Arsenal wanted him. Which offers came in for Victor?
My brother himself called me to tell me about the deal from Napoli but like I said before, he never wanted to move to the Serie A due to the very high level of racism in Italy.
He said he wasn’t too happy with the way they treat black players, he and I were in Wolfsburg, Germany when Kalidou Koulibaly who is now his team-mate at Napoli was insulted.
Down the line, that very incident started ringing bell on Victor’s mind once again and he told me: ‘Is it not the same Koulibaly that these people insulted for being black and now, they want me?’.He said he can never forget how they abused Koulibaly racially and that even if Napoli brought an offer of 300 million euros, he would never agree to move to the club or play in Italy.
My brother simply decided that he would remain with Lille in France, however, other offers from different clubs in some other leagues started coming but after the covid-19 pandemic, things started changing.
The economic meltdown started affecting those clubs and they did not want to spend huge money on signing players but truly, Victor told me that Tottenham came but his representatives gave Jose Mourinho a tough option.
He said they told Mourinho that he might need to sell Harry Kane before Spurs can buy him (Victor Osimhen), but I laughed that away as I felt it was never going to happen. Kane is Tottenham’s image and they can’t sell him.
I concluded that Tottenham would never agree to sell Kane because of a player who is not even a citizen of England. Mourinho also replied by saying that he really wanted Victor Osimhen sbut he couldn’t sell Kane.
And that was when Napoli was still knocking very hard on the door, but it wasn’t about the club only, it was also about the coach, and that is talking about Gennaro Gattuso who passionately loves Victor’s style of play.
Gattuso kept on repeating these words: ‘Give me Victor Osimhen, I am okay with him as my top striker for next season and beyond’. He even told TransferMarkt that he only wanted to sign one of the best strikers in the world.
The Napoli manager said he didn’t want to start spending money unnecessarily on strikers but that the club’s management should give him Victor and he would be ready for the 2020/21 season.
Gattuso also didn’t want to extend his contract at Napoli but when he got the assurance that the club president, Aurelio De Laurentiis was going to sign Victor for him, he had a change of mind. Even when he lost his sister earlier this year, Gattuso was still calling Victor’s agent and representatives to help make sure that my brother eventually moved to Napoli.
I tried to convince him to sign for Napoli but my brother rejected but when he himself saw that Lille actually wanted him to leave for them to make a lot of money, that was when he decided to talk to Napoli.
Lille as a selling club wanted the money more and to me, they were like if Victor Osimhen likes, he should score 100 goals for them, he just has to join Napoli for that money (80 million euros). I spoke with some top officials in Lille and from what we discussed, it showed that they had made up their mind on selling Victor. They told me ‘your brother has made his mark in Lille, so he needs to go.’
At that time, Napoli were still knocking and it actually got to a stage that the Serie A club wanted to shut the door but they were finding it very difficult not to close up Victor Osimhen’s deal. Victor finally demanded for the contract papers after which the turmoil of him sacking his agent, Jean-Gerard Benoit Czajka and finding another person to replace the sacked one actually came up.
But all those times, I was in Nigeria while Victor was over there, but because of his stubborness which I told you about earlier, so many shady things were revealed in the deal.
Can you tell us more about the shady things that were revealed in the Victor Osimhen’s deal?
The money offered as yearly wages was different and when another agent, William D’Avila came on board, the new salary increased a lot and I mean very much higher than the initial offer.
Their bid was much higher as the first wage offer was extremely low. When the new agent came into the picture, he raised the bar but it appeared that the first agent wasn’t giving a right account.
The former agent did not show too much accountability about the whole deal and because of Victor’s stubbornness, so many things were revealed and when he started seeing all these things, he acted.
I then decided to call his former agent to make sure that he went to see Victor and see that he completes his move to Napoli but despite being in France with my brother, he only called him. I also told the former agent to put his contract papers in English language and not in Italian which my brother could not read. Victor also said it must be written in English.
That was also when issues concerning his image rights started coming up after which we now saw that we were dealing with people who were not in anyway honest with us all along.
If Victor had signed the contract papers written in Italian language, he would have signed himself to slavery as the agent and his crew will be making serious money while my brother will earn peanuts.
When he went to Naples for the first time, they told him it was for sightseeing but when he got there, they had already arranged his transfer documents and all he needed to do was sign. He went on a boat-cruise and from there, he visited Napoli president, De Laurentiis in his house where he also met Gattuso but the people surrounding that deal were not telling him the truth.
It was actually during this process that he met someone who told him to make sure that his contract papers were written in English, the person also called Pavel Nedved, a director at Juventus.
The person put the phone on speaker and Nedved said everything in that deal was not in anyway favorable to the player and that Victor Osimhen will just play for five years and earn small money. Victor told Lille president that he wasn’t going to sign that deal after which his new agent, D’Avila came on board and they started the deal from the scratch again.
The sacked agent threatened to take Victor Osimhen to court. Why did he say that?
Victor too was ready for the sacked agent to go to court as he had documents which would incriminate him, most especially after all his shady dealings had been known to my brother. It is, however, very painful that when my brother was having difficulties during his injury spell at Wolfsburg, it was the same agent, Jean-Gerard, that was with him all through.
But when Victor started explaining to me that he had enough evidence to nail the agent, then I also gave up and he thereafter changed agents with D’Avila coming in to represent him.
Victor Osimhen finally joined Napoli after everything. How did the Osimhen family celebrate the move?
It was a fantastic news for the family as a whole. You know that Napoli is a big club and with the help of his teammates, I think he is going to play fantastically.
But he cannot do it alone, he needs the help of his colleagues and you can see that he scored a hat-trick in his first pre-season match on August 29 when Napoli won 11-0.
Has Victor Osimhen got a target for the new season?
You know that Victor doesn’t set target, he will just be scoring goals even in friendly and competitive matches. He told me in pidgin: ‘Brother Andrew, shebi na goal dem want, I go dey give them goals’.
Nigerian last produced the African footballer of the year over two decades ago when Nwankwo Kanu won it in 1999. Do you see Osimhen Osimhen breaking that jinx for the country by winning the award in the nearest future?
Yes, it is very possible if he maintains that momentum and goal-scoring form, if he remains consistent as football is all about having that consistency and it also takes the grace of God.
Finally, on a lighter note, what is the connection between Victor Osimhen and Samuel Chukwueze?
They were together all through the summer when they came to Nigeria. They are like brothers and it has been that way since their days together at the Under-17 level in 2015.
I was opportuned to be with the two of them few weeks back and I was even telling Chukwueze to try and see that the 2015 Golden Eaglets team should come together and have a party.
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