Former Golden Eaglets coach, Emmanuel Amuneke, has said he never thought that Super Eagles and S.S.C. Napoli of Italy striker, Victor Osimhen, would become a football star.
Osimhen made history in the summer of 2020 when Napoli signed him from French club, Lille, for a club-record fee thought to reach as high as €81 million, making him the most expensive African player of all time.
Recalling how he met the striker at the U-17 open camp in Abuja in an interview with World Soccer, Amuneke, who coached Osimhen at the 2015 U-17 World Cup, said he was not initially convinced by his all-round play at first glance. He, however, credited members of his backroom staff, who urged him to have another look at the striker, with the action leading to a different scenario.
He said: “I remember the first time I met Victor Osimhen. Everybody was given the opportunity to be able to show their quality, but the crowd was so much. We had to organise the team in such a way that it would be easier for us to select players after 15 to 30 minutes’ play from each group.
“So, to be very honest with you, when his team was playing, I was on the other side of the pitch, trying to select a new team that would come up immediately after. When his team was done playing, I was not all that convinced. But when my backroom staff came to me, they pointed him out to me. I told them I didn’t see much about him, but that I would have a second look. That was how, in the second game, he got another opportunity and he played quite well.”
Amuneke, a former Sporting and Barcelona winger, said he is grateful for having a second look at the lanky striker, saying he showed the qualities of a proper centre forward and developed over time due to his willingness to learn and be dedicated.
He said: “You could see the determination in him right away. Of course at that particular time you’re not looking at the quality of the players in terms of what they’re going to present. You’re just looking for intelligence, for decision-making with and without the ball. I think these are the key things that I was mostly emphasising and looking for, and Victor had them. Most importantly, he was coachable, and he was hungry.”
He added: “As you watched him at that World Cup, you quickly discovered something about him,” Amuneke explained. “As a striker, it is not common to see a tall player like him, and at that age, with very good coordination in terms of his running and contact with the ball. Some tall players are good with their head, but Victor had the full complement of qualities you’d want in a striker.”
The U-17 World Cup-winning coach said even though he and a few others doubted Osimhen during his formative years, the tough circumstances the striker encountered while growing up has helped him to remain focused.
He added that Osimhen can reach even higher heights, provided he keeps the focus that has taken him this far already.
“Losing his mother at an early age prepared him for what life is like, it toughened him up, it gave him focus. I know he is a player who knows what he wants, and is very mature for his age. He is not afraid of challenges.
“People will always have doubts, but Victor’s belief in himself helped when he moved to Wolfsburg. Things didn’t work out the way people were expecting, and probably a lot of people might have considered him one of those players at youth level who doesn’t fulfil their potential. But he remained calm, and now he’s with one of the best teams in Europe.
“If he works hard, remains humble and keeps the right associates, there is no limit to the level he can reach,” he said.