Victor Osimhen: Could the Napoli striker’s injury spell the end for Rudi Garcia?

Napoli boss Rudi Garcia must find solutions without Victor Osimhen for several important games (Credit: IMAGO/LaPresse)

Victor Osimhen: Could the Napoli striker’s injury spell the end for Rudi Garcia?

Seye Omidiora 21:19 - 20.10.2023

Another injury sustained by Victor Osimhen on Nigeria duty possibly infuriates Napoli, whose increasing need for results put Rudi Garcia under continued scrutiny.

It feels like much of Rudi Garcia’s Napoli start has been about putting out fires. When Victor Osimhen’s future is not constantly in the media spotlight, the Frenchman has to react to a player’s unpleasant reaction to being withdrawn. 

Rudi Garcia’s dispiriting Napoli start

Garcia has had to quell rumours about his future with the defending Serie A champions. Those reports are not expected to stop, with Napoli’s results oscillating between decent and disappointing.

The manager’s future was in doubt after the 3-1 loss to Fiorentina before the international break, a defeat that followed the 3-2 Champions League loss against Real Madrid.

Victor Osimhen
Rudi Garcia has had a disappointing start at Napoli since replacing Luciano Spalletti (Credit: IMAGO/LaPresse)

Napoli have now been beaten three times in the opening two months of competitive action under Garcia. For context, the Partenopei’s third defeat in all competitions last season came in January, and even that was a loss on penalties against Cremonese in the Coppa Italia.

Taking 90 minutes of football into account, the club’s third defeat in all competitions came at the start of March — a 1-0 home loss at the hands of Lazio.

Maybe last season was an outlier for Napoli, a club that flattered to deceive for years until Luciano Spalletti’s iteration sauntered to the club’s first Scudetto in 33 years. What has irked this term is the broader absence of the title-winning manager’s attacking patterns, possibly an upshot of Garcia’s attempts to change too much too quickly.

Caught up in the Frenchman’s underwhelming start to life in Naples is Osimhen, whose latest layoff could be good and bad for Garcia and the Partenopei.

Osimhen’s latest injury and Nigerians’ love-hate relationship with Napoli

Nigerians undoubtedly have a complicated relationship with Napoli as an institution.

Victor Osimhen
Napoli have lost Victor Osimhen for several weeks after the striker got injured on Super Eagles duty (Credit: IMAGO/Shengolpixs)

This love-hate relationship was worsened a few weeks back by the club’s social media faux pas and empty club statement that garnered unwanted international coverage but possibly began after Aurelio De Laurentiis’ remarks about the timing of the Africa Cup of Nations and a future reluctance to sign players from the continent who are unprepared to miss out on the continental showpiece.

Those remarks were made in August 2022, angering fans of the three-time African nation, who took umbrage at Osimhen missing AFCON 2021 (held in January 2022). 

The centre-forward’s broken cheekbone meant participation in Cameroon was touch-and-go, but his absence was confirmed after contracting coronavirus just before the New Year, ruling him out on health grounds.

Victor Osimhen
Victor Osimhen's fractured cheekbone in November 2021 meant he played no part in the Africa Cup of Nations at the start of 2022 (Credit: IMAGO/Nicolo Campo)

Supporters felt Napoli’s actions were dishonest, and those suspicions were given credence when Osimhen partook in Serie A action at Bologna on January 17, 2022 — two days before the Super Eagles’ final group game against Guinea-Bissau — and five days later against Salernitana (taking place on the same day the West African side lost to Tunisia in the Round of 16).

The feeling that the Super Eagles could have had Osimhen at AFCON persists, and fans hope to have their top marksman available for next year’s finals.

De Laurentiis’ comments after Osimhen sustained a muscle injury in Nigeria’s 2-2 draw with Saudi Arabia potentially reignite an already frosty relationship with the club whose medical team reportedly faulted Super Eagles doctors after the striker sustained a shoulder injury representing the West African nation against Sierra Leone in November 2020.

It remains to be seen how Osimhen’s shape in the lead-up to AFCON develops, with some fans’ distrust of the club leading to suggestions he could miss the finals in the Ivory Coast. 

In the meantime, Napoli are back in Serie A action, and it will not be out of place to assume last season’s Capocannoniere may have played his final match under Garcia. 

Osimhen’s absence and its two-sided upshot for an under-fire Garcia

Garcia remarked on Friday that he has the support of De Laurentiis, who previously debunked rumours that the club considered Antonio Conte to replace the current Napoli head coach.

While those suggestions were inharmonious with the supremo’s desire to continue with a coach who favoured a 4-3-3 with an inclination to be aggressive without the ball after Spalletti’s departure — a line repeated when rejecting the notion that Conte was approached during the international break — there is no smoke without fire.

Performances have been inconsistent, and Garcia has contended with player dissent. First, it was Khvicha Kvaratskhelia showing annoyance after his substitution in the draw at Genoa, and the latest incident saw Matteo Politano visibly irked at coming off before the hour in the defeat by Fiorentina.

Victor Osimhen
Osimhen and Garcia disagreed after the Napoli boss withdrew the striker against Bologna (Credit: IMAGO/Buzzi)

Both incidents bookend Osimhen’s disrespect of Garcia after his withdrawal at Bologna, with the Super Eagle irate that the Frenchman did not play with two strikers.

On the one hand, Osimhen’s absence means Garcia will not have to answer repeated questions about the striker’s future, on-field conduct and performances. 

The Frenchman also avoids being put in the unenviable position of being the club’s spokesperson after the inane Tik-Tok posts a few weeks back.

That offers some respite to the beleaguered manager, even if he must find solutions to the Partenopei losing their best centre-forward for several weeks.

The big games Osimhen could miss for Napoli

Reports in Italy suggest that Osimhen could miss four to six weeks of action. A four-week absence rules out the striker until November’s international break, ruling out the striker for the Champions League doubleheader with Union Berlin and a meeting with current Serie A leaders AC Milan.

Missing six weeks makes the striker doubtful for a visit to Atalanta and possibly a visit to the Santiago Bernabeu to take on Real Madrid. A lot could change in a month, but positing that Garcia may not be in situ if results remain inconsistent is plausible.

Osimhen has netted three game-winning Serie A goals, outranking everyone in the top flight, despite the feeling that the campaign has not gone his way. 

Time will tell if the Nigerian’s expected month-long absence weakens Garcia’s position, but the Frenchman’s preference would have been heading into a crucial run of games with his best frontman.

Without Osimhen, he may be fighting a losing battle at the Maradona.