Victor Osimhen won the Serie A title with Napoli last season and ended 2023 by being named African footballer of the year, but the striker reckons lifting the Cup of Nations with Nigeria might just top the lot.
“It would be one of the best moments of my life,” the 25-year-old told AFP in Abidjan, where the Super Eagles are preparing to face hosts Ivory Coast in their second group game at this edition of the 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 admitted.
“I am really looking forward to winning something with the Super Eagles.”
Osimhen is, naturally, the focus of most attention around the Nigerian squad after his exploits with Napoli, scoring 26 goals last season to lead them to their first Scudetto since 1990.
The eyes of Africa’s most populous country, home to over 220 million people, are on him, but he insists he can handle the pressure.
“I have aimed high all my life, while growing up, and this pressure comes naturally. I am the kind of person who doesn’t fold under pressure,” he said while speaking at the Nigerian team hotel overlooking Abidjan’s Cocody Bay.
“As the pressure comes I take it into my head to try to give my best and do well for myself.
“So far so good, I have been doing well for my club and country, which I feel like is the most important thing,” said Osimhen, who pipped Achraf Hakimi and Mohamed Salah to the African player prize.
“To win the African player of the year is just the dream of every young African player. For me to have won it shows the kind of things I have put in, the hard work, the sweat, the tears.
“For me it is really a dream come true,” he added, appearing relaxed having just finished another interview with Togo’s 2008 African footballer of the year, Emmanuel Adebayor.
KANU, OKOCHA INSPIRATIONS
The lithe forward spearheads a Super Eagles side packed full of attacking talent and the aim for Osimhen is to lead them to their first Afcon crown since 2013.
Doing that would allow him to take his place alongside Nigerian greats such as Nwankwo Kanu and Jay-Jay Okocha, the latter part of the team that won the 1994 Cup of Nations.
“I used to speak with Nwankwo Kanu and Jay-Jay Okocha. I think I owe a lot of my success to them because they have been sort of an inspiration to me while growing up,” said Osimhen, who announced himself as the top scorer at the Under-17 World Cup in 2015.
“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 is fresh from signing a new contract at Napoli, where he insists he is happy and has “a good relationship” with President Aurelio De Laurentiis.
TOURNAMENT TO BE PROUD OF
His previous Afcon experiences have been frustrating, as he hardly featured when Nigeria, with Odion Ighalo leading the attack, finished third in 2019 and then missed the 2022 edition altogether.
“In 2019, when I came, Ighalo was there. He is a big brother to me, so it was important for me to go through this learning process from him to get this experience,” Osimhen said.
“I was supposed to be there in Cameroon, but of course, I had my facial injury.
“Now I am here. It is a dream come true for me. I don’t want to put myself in the center, but, of course, a lot of people say this. I think I am 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 Nigeria was held by Equatorial Guinea in their opening Group A game, a result that increased the pressure before facing the hosts.
“The first game was disappointing,” he said.
“Going forward to make sure we get it right in the next game, which is against a tougher opponent,”