Converse with the average Nigerian football fan long enough, and you quickly come to understand that the clannishness that characterizes their everyday life bleeds into their appreciation of the beautiful game.
This will often manifest in an inability to see the forest for the trees, an unwillingness to recognize reasonable criticism of their favourite players, and a fixation on the trivial and superficial.
Earlier this week, amid all the Super League drama, the comments of Sky Italia transfer guru Gianluca Di Marzio concerning Victor Osimhen went under the radar a little bit.
I say only a little because, from those who did catch wind of it, there came a predictable reaction from Nigerian football observers: a blind defence of their Super Eagles no 9, accompanied with a verbal dressing down of the Italian journalist.
But What Exactly Did Di Marzio Say About Osimhen?
Speaking in the aftermath of Napoli’s 1-1 draw with Inter at the weekend, Di Marzio opined he felt Gennaro Gattuso’s side were better in the final 15 minutes, coinciding with the period of the game after Osimhen was substituted.
When asked for his opinion on the striker, he said he still has a lot of maturing to do and should be assessed in that light, rather than in light of the hefty transfer fee Napoli paid to acquire him.
“He is not a player you buy for a high amount, he is worth around 10-15 million euros,” he said. “In a high-level team, he can be a good backup centre-forward.”
Obviously, judging by some of the reactions, many only read the last bit, and have concluded on that basis that Di Marzio is off the mark completely.
However, is that really the case? A dispassionate appraisal of the quotes actually reveals the opposite: the veteran journalist is not very far off the mark in his assessment.
The Unpalatable Truth Of Osimhen’s Stats
First off, that Napoli overpaid – relative to his current level of ability – to sign Osimhen from Lille is undeniable.
While the 22-year-old made quite an impression with Les Dogues, scoring 18 goals in 38 appearances in all competitions, can anyone objectively say that one (truncated) season was enough to warrant shattering the African transfer record?
Nicolas Pepe, who Lille sold 12 months prior for a similar sort of fee to Arsenal, is universally acknowledged as having been grossly overpriced, but he at least had a larger sample size to affirm his ability.
Secondly, Di Marzio pegging Osimhen’s as a backup centre-forward for a top-level club might seem unnecessarily provocative but think about it for a minute.
If we can all agree that the Champions League is the benchmark, which of this year’s semi-finalists – Real Madrid, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, and Chelsea – would Osimhen realistically start upfront for? Exactly.
It seems then that there are only two truly objectionable things in that interview. One is the proposed transfer fee, and the other is the idea that Napoli is better in attack without Osimhen.
As far as the first is concerned, why should anyone care? Several different factors determine market pricing, and so Di Marzio’s throwing out a somewhat arbitrary ballpark figure really means little in the grand scheme.
Why should it matter to us how much a Nigerian player costs in the transfer market?
Osimhen Needs To Improve – Fast!
In any case, can anyone objectively say that, based on his performances this season for Napoli (and ignoring the caveats and context that we, as Nigerians, can better appreciate), Osimhen has been worth any more than 10-15 million euros?
The other assertion is trickier because, while it is true somewhat, it is also slightly reductive. It is less the case that Napoli attack is better without Osimhen than that the style of play in Naples is not suited to the Nigeria international – and vice-versa.
In 74 minutes of action on Sunday, Osimhen touched the ball 10 times and had a total of zero shots. Over the course of the season, he has averaged a measly 2.5 shots per game.
It paints a very dreary, uninspiring picture of a player yet to properly settle into life at San Paolo.
Considering he has been there less than a season, is it any surprise that the team would fare better with a different striker who is more in tune with the playing style?
Strip back the emotion of it all, and immediately it becomes clearer.
In our capacity as Nigerian football fans, and knowing the potential he possesses, it is much easier for us to give Osimhen a pass for his debut season at Napoli.
However, we must also be willing to accept the sour truth: considering the fee paid to acquire him, he has been a bust of a signing. The good news, however, is that there is more than enough time left for him to course-correct.