Sunday, June 23, 2024

Victor Osimhen: Nigeria striker can reach 'highest stage', says Emmanuel Amuneke – BBC


Victor Osimhen has scored six goals in eight league appearances for Napoli this season
Nigeria legend Emmanuel Amuneke says more should be expected from Victor Osimhen after the Super Eagles striker finished eighth in the 2023 men's Ballon d'Or.
The 24-year-old was the top African player in this year's rankings, and became the highest-placed Nigerian in the award's selection since its inception in 1956, thanks a remarkable 2022-23 season in which he scored 26 Serie A goals to help Napoli win their first Italian title in 33 years.
Osimhen also became the highest-scoring African in Serie A history, breaking the previous record held by 1995 Ballon d'Or winner George Weah, who is now president of Liberia.
"There is no doubt about his character, in terms of his desire and zeal to achieve something, succeed and win," Amuneke, who nurtured Osimhen while Nigeria Under-17 coach, told BBC Sport Africa.
"As a coach at youth level, that was something that made me admire him. That is one of the best [attributes] for a player to make it to the highest stage."
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Osimhen also finished top scorer in qualifying for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) with 10 goals, and he is widely expected to claim the 2023 Confederation of African Football (Caf) men's player of the year trophy.
The former Wolfsburg and Lille striker is on the 30-man long-list for the award alongside Liverpool and Egypt forward Mohamed Salah, Manchester United and Cameroon goalkeeper Andre Onana, and Morocco right-back Achraf Hakimi, who plays for French giants Paris St-Germain.
The winner will be announced next month at a ceremony in Marrakech, Morocco, and could see Osimhen become the first Nigerian to clinch the honour since former Arsenal forward Nwankwo Kanu in 1999.
"We hope he wins the Caf award with what he has done for his club and the national team," said Amuneke, who was himself named the African player of the year in 1994.
"Regardless of not playing at the World Cup [held in Qatar last year], he has been able to establish himself as a worthy contender."
Despite going on to achieve success with club and country, Amuneke, who played alongside Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola for Barcelona, has recalled how the young Osimhen almost missed out on making Nigeria's squad for the U17 World Cup in 2015.
However, he was eventually selected to travel to Chile and made history by scoring 10 goals as the Golden Eaglets won the title for the fifth time.
"We actually had a lot [of strikers] during the screening," Amuneke, now 52, said.
"I paired each of the players in groups and his set played badly. I already ignored Victor with other players in his set but my backroom staff drew my attention to him.
"I gave him another chance and he proved himself to make the squad."
Osimhen is expected to lead the line for Nigeria at the Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast in January after missing the 2021 edition in Cameroon
Amuneke, who is now based in the Spanish city of Santander, believes Osimhen and the Super Eagles have the quality to win the 2023 Nations Cup in Ivory Coast next year.
The West Africans have been continental champions three times, with their most recent success coming under the late Stephen Keshi in 2013 in South Africa.
"We are blessed with a crop of talented players, but we can't go to the tournament merely thinking we can win because we have good players," Amuneke said.
"Winning Afcon is not about players – there's a whole lot to be planned and implemented."
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However, Amuneke, who scored two goals in the final against Zambia to help Nigeria win their second Nations Cup title in Tunisia in 1994, wants current Super Eagles boss Jose Peseiro to address some weak areas in the team.
"The offensive players must also be a part of the defence, especially when the team is not in possession," he said.
"The coach should take a holistic look at his team and find a solution to make them compete well against other teams."
Nigeria, who have been drawn in Group A alongside hosts Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea and Guinea-Bissau, were knocked out in the last 16 at the previous edition of Afcon in Cameroon.
Previous Caf men's player of the year winners from Nigeria
Rashidi Yekini (Vitoria de Setubal, Portugal) – 1993
Emmanuel Amuneke (Sporting CP, Portugal) – 1994
Nwankwo Kanu (Inter Milan, Italy) – 1996
Viktor Ikpeba (Monaco, France) – 1997
Nwankwo Kanu (Arsenal, England) – 1999
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