NOT a few Nigerians would have been awed by the interview that Lille forward and current leading scorer in the French top flight, Victor Osimhen, granted France Football last week. Osimhen’s was indeed a touching story: he used to search dump sites in Lagos for boots with which to play football. He told France Football: “Sometimes, you found yourself with a Nike on the right foot and then you started looking for the other foot. And finally, you found the left foot and it was a Reebok! My sister patched everything up and it was good.”
To say that life was hard for the young footballer would indeed be an understatement. His mother died when he was still very young and his father lost his job only a few months after. As a teenager, Osimhen sold bottled water in the Lagos traffic while his brother distributed sports newspapers. For her part, his sister sold oranges. But the story would change soon afterwards as Osimhen’s footballing prowess soon gained him a spot in Nigeria’s Under-17 team. He had previously played for a Lagos-based academy called Ultimate Strikers. Nigeria, having won the Under-17 gong in 2013, were the defending champions and were aiming to retain the trophy. The objectivity and excellent sense of judgment of the scouts and coaches who drafted him into the junior national team en route paid off as Osimhen created a new world record, netting 10 times as Nigeria won a record fifth Under-17 World Cup gold in Chile in 2015.
Bundesliga side Wolfsburg signed him up just after he turned 17, but he failed to regsiter his name on the scorers’ sheet during 16 appearances for the club, later going on trial with Belgian clubs Zulte Waregem and Club Brugge. But it was at another Belgian side, Charleroi, which offered him a season-long loan contract, that he got his big break. Osimhen scored 20 goals and set up four for his team-mates in all competitions. This facilitated his move to Ligue 1 side Lille, who were about to lose talisman Nicolas Pepe to Arsenal. Lille manager of the French outfit, Christophe Galtier, signed the attacker for £10.6 million. And the investment seems to have yielded fruit as Osimhen has been an instant hit. So far, in just nine appearances for Lille on the domestic scene, he has scored seven goals and recorded two assists, while he has a goal from two Champions League appearances. Indeed, he has already made history by scoring six goals in his first eight league games. He is the fastest Lille signing to reach that number in over 50 years, quicker than former Chelsea star and now Real Madrid Galactico, Eden Hazard.
By any standards, Osimhen’s story is an inspiring one. It has shown that with courage, determination and hard work, talent will always shine through. As a young Nigerian, the striker certainly had his own share of the limitations of dysfunctional society, a society where, to speak in relation to football, academies with multiple football pitches, dozens of youth coaches, sports science departments and dentist centres are lacking. As a rookie footballer, he lacked the most basic tool of the trade: boots. He had to scrounge for boots from dump sites, but his passion for the game, which drove him to taking such extreme measures, never dimmed. Today, to say the least, he could have a million boots merely by requesting for them. Nigerian youths ought to take a cue from stories such as this. It is a fact that many of them are not ready to imbibe the culture of hard work. Rather, they prefer to make money through unorthodox means. Yet if the Osimhen story has proved anything, it is the fact that they can succeed in life without engaging in ritual moneymaking (yahoo plus), fraud (yahoo yahoo), prostitution, drug dealing and other social misadventures.
We believe that people like Osimhen are the real role models that Nigerian youths ought to look up to, not the deviant characters thrown up by reality shows such as Big Brother Nigeria and other aggravations. Admittedly, though, it has taken a functional society to make Osimhen thrive, and that point cannot be emphasised enough. Governments across the country need to make the country functional. They need to make life comfortable for the citizenry. They need to govern well. Nigeria in its present state is nothing but a dream killer. Had Osimhen not left the shores of Nigeria and benefited from the gains of functional societies, it is doubtful that he would today be one of the hottest young prospects in Europe.