The Nigeria international has endured a torrid first season in Italy, and sadly the second season may not necessarily offer him respite
There may well be a late-season rush of form and goals to render this assessment premature, but at this time it is impossible to characterize Victor Osimhen’s first season at Napoli as anything other than a catastrophe.
Of course, short of time travel and sundry methods of fortune-telling, no one could have foreseen the heaping of misfortune that has dogged his move to Italy.
From a dislocated shoulder to successive positive Covid tests, and now the head trauma that saw him stretchered off during the defeat to Atalanta and hospitalized. It is expected that Osimhen will miss anything between seven days and two weeks of action as a consequence, yet another speed bump is a stop-start campaign wherein he has struggled to properly put down roots.
On the pitch, things have not been much better. When he has played, especially before the shoulder injury sustained in November, there have been sparks and flashes of the player for whom Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis paid a record African fee. There has, however, been no fire as yet.
In fairness, that has not been entirely his fault. Napoli’s style of attacking arguably is more suited to a targetman-type who is able to facilitate the shooting of the wide forwards and bring others into play, and at times the Nigeria international has struggled to fill that order. Osimhen is, fundamentally, a hybrid between a poacher and a pure No. 9 who wants to run in behind, best at latching onto service from others rather than being a link-up striker.
Adapting to fit the needs of the team was always going to take some time.
🗣️ “Osimhen can make the same impact as Maradona” 😲
What did you make of this comment from Amaju Pinnick?
— Goal Africa (@GoalAfrica) July 30, 2020
And yet, when you look at it that way, perhaps it is entirely his fault. Or at least the fault of his representatives and advisers.
They may not have been able to divine the specifics, but it was always obvious to anyone a striker in his mould would struggle at Napoli. The evidence for this – the club’s attacking mechanics under Gennaro Gattuso – was there for all to see. Why did they not heed the warning?
Sure, Lille were keen to sell, flipping high-performing talent being their business model. Still though, they were doubtless other suitors for the player, and so Osimhen and his advisers are due a lot of the blame for willingly getting into a disadvantaged position by not doing due diligence.
In any case, the milk is spilled. The critical question now is: what comes next?
While some reservations have begun to creep into the minds of the fanbase, Napoli and their faithful will, you would imagine, be willing to grant the striker the benefit of the doubt. It has been far from a normal season, and the extenuating circumstances mean it would be simply unfair to make a definitive judgment on Osimhen as a player on the basis of his work this term.
The 22-year-old will himself be keenly aware he has yet to show anything approaching his best, and so will be itching to repay the club’s patience and make up for lost time.
So, all eyes will look to 2021/22, and what that could bring.
However, it may not be as simple as going again. There are few guarantees, and potential for yet more upheaval.
Most worrisome is the fact it remains uncertain whether Gattuso will be in charge come the start of next season. He has yet to renew terms with Napoli, and in any case the side’s performances and results this season have seen them drop out of the Scudetto race.
His job is far from secure.
Whatever about the team not being set up to play to Osimhen’s strengths, it was the former AC Milan midfielder who reportedly moved heaven and earth to convince the club to shell out for the former Lille striker.
That in itself guarantees the player a level of trust and emotional investment that might not be present in a new manager, were Napoli to roll the dice on a managerial change.
He is a high-price asset, so naturally a new manager would be incentivized to get some use out of him. However, at this time, there is a larger sample size corroborating the benefits of building around the movement and efficiency of Lorenzo Insigne and Hiring Lozano, than there is for Osimhen, who has seemed like a luxury item in the Napoli attack for much of his time at the club.
Clearly then, it is imperative that the club appoint a manager who makes Osimhen something of a pet project, and who is willing to reformat the team’s attack accordingly. Short of this, even the absence of mishaps might not be enough to halt the player’s current trajectory; having shown so much promise, two years floundering under the weight of a hefty transfer fee might well be too long for Napoli to wait.
How they would seek to cut their losses is anyone’s guess.