Victor Osimhen and the 15 minutes that saved his career

FOOTBALL Victor Osimhen and the 15 minutes that saved his career

Mark Kinyanjui 11:22 - 19.01.2024

Nigerian legend Emmanuel Amunike has revealed how 15 minutes saw Victor Osimhen go from an unknown kid into the global superstar he is today

Legendary former Nigeria and Barcelona winger Emmanuel Amunike has admitted that he needed convincing to give Victor Osimhen a chance to prove himself for the country’s U17 side in 2014.

The 25-year old was released by Ultimate Strikers Academy, a youth team based in Lagos in 2014.

Then a scout called Shira Ayila — brother of former Nigeria international Ayila Yussuf — who had watched Osimhen play and saw something in the tall, gangly forward, invited him to take part in some mass trials for the under-17 national team.

These mass tryouts were to put together a team for the Under-17 Africa Cup of Nations and the Under-17 World Cup, held in Niger and Chile respectively the following year.

The trials were in Abuja, the nation’s capital and more than 300 miles away. Osimhen and five others squeezed into Ayila’s car and drove for 10 uncomfortable hours to get there.

There were hundreds of hopefuls at the trials, so many that each player was only given short games of 15 minutes to show what they could do.

Amunike was the coach and the man who had to sift through all of these players to find some gems.

Even though Osimhen ended up scoring twice in those 15 minutes, Amunike admitted in an interview with The Athletic that he was not impressed at first.

“I told them (my coaching staff), ‘I didn’t see much’,” said Amunike. 

“But my staff came to me and said, ‘Coach, that boy in the green jersey…’. So I said, ‘Let’s see him again’.”

Amunike, who won the 1996 Olympic Gold Medal while still a player, has admitted that he was won over by Osimhen's intelligence on his second showing, which effectively made him change his initial thoughts.

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“The next day, I took my time to watch him. And apart from his football abilities, I liked his character: the hunger, the desire, he was a player that was fighting. That’s how he came into the team," he added.

“I was not much interested in the aspect of how he played. I was more interested in the intelligence of the player.”

Osimhen ended up being the top scorer with four goals in five games at the Under-17 AFCON, but it was at the World Cup in Chile where he made his name.

The lanky striker scored in every Nigeria game, finishing with the Golden Boot (10 goals from six matches) as his side won the tournament.

It was that tournament that opened the door for him to move to Europe by way of Wolfsburg, before stints at Belgian side Charleroi earned him a 15 million pound move to Lille and subsequently, a mouthwatering transfer to Napoli in 2020, a club with whom he has since emerged into a global superstar.

Osimhen has starred at the 2023 AFCON in Ivory Coast so far. He has been named man of the match in each of his two appearances against Equatorial Guinea and Ivory Coast.