The 20-year-old announced himself in France with a thrilling brace, and his anachronistic style is set to take Ligue 1 by storm
You have to give it to Victor Osimhen: he knows how to make an entrance.
For his first demonstration of just what he was about at Stade Pierre Mauroy, he scored the type of goal that most aptly summarizes his style, and in so doing gave the Lille faithful a taste of what is ahead in the coming months.
Every element of it: from the powerful run the most of what was – much as Jose Fonte might try to spin it another way – half clearance, half hopeful punt forward; to brilliantly taking it on the chest and cushioning it into his loping stride; to the somewhat heavy second touch off the knee that both took him away from the defender and might have been gobbled up had the goalkeeper been quicker off the mark; to the textbook, low finish across Alban Lafont; was typically Osimhen.
It would not have come as a surprise then to the Lille hierarchy.
Les Dogues’ Sporting Director Luis Campos first identified the 20-year-old as a potential target back in December, and a lot of scouting was done to gauge, not just his qualities – which are apparent enough – but his character and personality as well: manager Christophe Galtier describes him as a ‘teammate’.
With a deal for Portuguese striker Rafael Leao to join AC Milan in the works, Osimhen was the club’s first-choice replacement.
That in itself represented a huge vote of confidence; Lille are set to compete in the Champions League, and could have been forgiven for setting their sights a little higher.
Instead, Campos opted to stay true to the club’s transfer ethos, prioritizing malleable young talent from off the beaten path – in this case Belgium, a league much lower in profile than France – and trusting in the ability of the coaching staff to burnish their latent ability and smooth out the rough edges.
Nicolas Pepe’s replacement, Victor Osimhen, scored twice for Lille on his debut! 🔥 pic.twitter.com/YDWibSXpB0
By no means is Osimhen the finished article. Few are at his age.
There is his aforementioned touch, which can be inconsistent.
There is also the fact that he does little else besides shoot: against Nantes, he had the fewest touches of any Lille player (and second-fewest of any starter on either side) and was beaten five out of six times in the air; but no one attempted more shots than his four, or got more on target than his two.
He is clearly no target man, neither is he an attacking all-rounder who can bring others into play in the manner that the evolution of modern football seems to demand.
Outside the box, he can be a little awkward, even uncoordinated. What he does have going for him is his directness, his willingness – no, his desire to shoot on sight and to make the moments count.
This makes him something of an anachronism, but perhaps explains why he can be, and is, so lethal: his second goal was instructive in this regard.
For what seemed like an eternity he waited, coiled like some viper in the sand, and seemed to be doing nothing as Lille recycled possession after a failed incursion into the box.
And then, soon as the ball came in, he sprang, undeterred even by a missed clearance that might have put others off.
His touch was a little heavy, but his seeming torpor just before seemed to lull the Nantes defence into complacency, and he was onto it in a trice. Even with the angle against him, there was no consideration of any other course of action besides a shot.
There are, naturally, reasons to temper optimism. There will be tougher tests, not least of all in Europe, than Les Canaris, who finished firmly midtable last season; there will be goalkeepers more proactive and confident than Lafont, who has endured a miserable 2019.
Whether Osimhen will be able to hold his own remains to be seen, but if midtable represents Ligue 1’s median level of opposition, there will be plenty of moments just like Sunday for the young striker.
It may be even better if, like former under-17 international teammate Samuel Chukwueze has done in Spain with Villarreal, he evinces the ability to raise his level of performance in the big games. While at Charleroi, he scored in both the semi-final and the final of the Europa League play-offs, and so perhaps there is something there.
These two 20-year-olds, other things being equal, should define the course of the senior national team in the coming years.
Following the retirement of Africa Cup of Nations Golden Boot winner Odion Ighalo, there is something of a vacancy upfront, and no shortage of claimants.
However, seeing as the promise of Kelechi Iheanacho is becoming progressively difficult to glimpse, and neither Simy Nwankwo nor Paul Onuachu has grasped their (admittedly limited) opportunity, the line of succession might very well skip a generation.
In the likes of Club Brugge’s David Okereke and new Mainz loanee Taiwo Awoniyi, there is some interest. The clear frontrunner though is Osimhen, and his continued development means the national team need not endure a period of uncertainty at centre-forward.