Read how the golden Eaglets' danger man and U-17 FIFA World cup 2015 highest goals scorer, Victor Osimhen rose from the dirty slums of Lagos to the world stage as European clubs are currently fighting for his signature.
Golden Eaglets striker, Victor Osimhen, is the last of seven children of Mr. and Mrs. Patrick Osimhen, Saturday Telegraph learnt on a visit to the neighbourhood where he was born and grew up. He is another classic example of ‘grass to grace story.’ according to a prominent Sports pundit.
Few sights in football inspire as much excitement and anticipation as an emerging youth talent and Nigeria, being a strong production line of youth stars, has tossed another youngster up to the world in Chile. After scoring eight goals in just five matches (before the semifinal clash with Mexico) in the ongoing FIFA U-17 World Cup, Victor Osimhen, has announced himself as one for the future.
Nigeria won the last edition of the cadet tournament in United Arab Emirates two years ago where Kelechi Iheanacho and Taiwo Awoniyi dazzled the world with their skills and scoring prowess. And now another star has appeared on the horizon. Osimhen is like Iheanacho and Awoniyi rolled into one.
He possesses that same exceptional balance that allows Iheanacho excellent control and the ability to dribble past defenders with ease and the physique and lethal finishing Awoniyi has displayed in abundance. He also has deft touches and all-round technical play; his maturity, vision, awareness are his greatest assets.
Osimhen can create and score goals with exceptional composure. Eight goals and three assists in Chile are a testimony to the great potential he offers. The ongoing tournament has created an opportunity for him to ‘sell’ himself. Scouts all over the world are scrambling to get him sign for their clubs.
In fact, he has been linked with topsides like Arsenal, Chelsea and even Manchester City. It is expected things will be like that, clubs must come after a potential winner of the Most Valuable Player of a FIFA competition. Probably at the moment, on his hotel room bed in Chile, Osimhen is in deep thought on how suddenly his life has transformed.He is probably playing back, through his mind’s eye, the memories of his life, his humble beginnings, how things were tough growing up and the beautiful future staring him in the face now.
The house where Victor was born
Olusosun is a small community around Oregun, Ikeja, Lagos, but it is popular because it accommodates one of the largest dumpsites in Africa. Olushosun landfill is a 100-acre dumpsite, which receives up to 10,000 tons of refuse each day. Inhabitants of this place are constantly worried about the stench that oozes from the site; incidentally, the next big thing in Nigerian football has emerged from this rather unlikely place.
Although, it is just about few kilometres away from Lagos State Government House, many parts of the innermost of Olusosun still exhibit the features of an ancient town. The buildings are those Lagosians refer to as ‘faceme- I-face-you’ and there are still many mud houses on many streets in the neighbourhood. This writer almost lost his way trying to locate exactly where the emerging star player was born and grew up due to the awkward layout of the area until a guide took him to an old one storey building, painted green with a touch of yellow.
A flag of the All Progressives Congress hoisted at the top corner of the house and several torn campaign posters adorning most parts of the wall show the owner is a politician.
“Good morning, who are you looking for?” an elderly woman, selling confectioneries in front of the house queried.
But immediately our correspondent revealed their identities and the purpose of their visit, a big smile appeared on the old woman’s face. Madam Adesoye who introduced herself as a neighbour of the Osimhens could not contain her excitement; she momentarily left her wares to beckon on other neighbours.
“Victor was born here'' Adesoye said excitedly. “ Virtually all the children were born here before they packed out early this year. He is a very gentle boy who does not like trouble. He is very respectful and willing to help. He does not complain when sent on errands, he used to help me fetch water sometimes.
"We are very happy about what he is doing, everyone in our area is happy.
There is a different feeling among the youth in this area because Victor’s story has inspired a lot of us to believe we can become anything we want in life,” Orji Joshua, a teenager, who was also born in the same compound, added his voice.
“I know him to be a very humble person and quiet. It is always something like a carnival here anytime Nigeria is playing because we all want to see him score and by the grace of God they will bring the cup home.”
A correspondent was told that the Osimhens moved to the house in 1983 but relocated this year to somewhere in Ogba.
Saturday Telegraph learnt that the landlord showed little or no understanding when the family was unable to pay rents regularly. “I am happy about what is happening to them through Victor because they really struggled,” a neighbour who did not want to be named said.
As this writer was about to leave the environment, one of the neighbours pointed at a bread seller.
“This is where Victor used to buy bread, he likes bread so much,” he said. Reporters approached the bread seller and asked if truly she knew the player and his exploits at the U-17 World Cup. “He is my customer,” she answered. “He used to buy bread from me almost every day.
In fact, he is still owing me N200, he did not pay for the last one he bought,” she added as everyone burst into laughter. “I have forgotten about the money though, because I was happy when I heard what he is doing. I can’t believe a boy buying bread here is on the television playing for Nigeria.”
How mother used to strap him at the back to sell sachet water
Many football stars in Africa never led lives of affluence before reaching stardom and little Osimhen was no different. He is from an impoverished background just like many kids in Africa; he was introduced to struggles in the streets even before he could correctly pronounce his name.
According to the first born of the family, Andrew, the hardship they faced was so biting that little Victor, then a toddler, was made to face scorching sun in Lagos traffic where the mother used to sell sachet water to augment her paltry income as a civil servant. “My mum sold sachet water here after coming back from work, so also my sisters,” Andrew who is a newspaper vendor at Ojota told a correspondent.
“Victor was very young and mum usually strapped him on her back running after vehicles to sell sachet water. Indeed, growing up was tough.
“It became so tough and embarrassing when one of my sisters gained admission into secondary school and there was no money. Many times we didn’t have money to pay our rent, things were so tough.
"The little salary mum was earning usually finished within a week and the struggle would start all over Amidst that misery, life dealt another big blow on the family. Their enterprising mother lost her life about seven years ago.
“It was a tough time for us, but life had to go on. It is unfortunate that mother is not here today to see what her son is doing,” Andrew said.
I abandoned my education to care for Victor, others -Brother
Victor admitted in an interview during the competition that he learnt many tricks from his elder brother who is also a footballer. Andrew was a local star at Olusosun and its environs but he said he had to abandon the game to face his newspaper business. He had to start the business and jettison the idea of furthering his education so that he could raise money to help his younger siblings.
“I had to quit football and even schooling and hit the streets to ‘hustle’ so that I could take care of my younger ones. My mother was a civil servant and things were not going on well for my dad too. So, after my first year in secondary school I told myself I had to do something to help the family and so a brother introduced me to this business I am doing now.
"I left home after mum died, moved to Ikorodu but I was still monitoring the development of my young ones.
“Victor is just like me on the field of play, he can run and score; I was a good striker but he has something that I don’t have and that is skills. The way he dribbles while running baffles me, I could not do that.
“Victor likes being himself, he is a very reserved person just like me. He does not share his thought so easily with people. He is a calm boy.”
He almost quit football – friend
Osimhen knew that he had talent and could make something out of football but things were not going as he expected. He had to make ends meet, he needed to try his hands on something else. So, as someone who had other talents he was very close to abandoning the beautiful game for other endeavours.
“I was worried, I knew he could make it in football because of his height, speed and skills,” Mayowa Olorunfemi, his closest friend and captain of his local club, the Ultimate Strikers FC, said.
“But all my efforts to get him back to football almost failed until I begged our coach, Chinedu Ogbonna, to talk to him.And we thank God he listened and started coming to training again.
“It was just about two months after that the coach gave us a note to go to a club in Abeokuta for exposure and from there one agent discovered him during a competition. We went for the U-17 screening after that. I am happy for him that he is someone we are celebrating today.”
Possesses traits of a star – Coach
Just like many kids, Osimhen started football at a very tender age and it was not long before his coaches noticed something special about him. Coach Paul Irikhewe was the first man to introduce him to organised football and he said he was not surprised to see the player turning into an international star.
“I saw the potential in him right from time and that is why I usually encourage him and I think due to hard work, discipline and dedication he is excelling today, I am happy.
“I started working with him right from kindergarten, just like most of the boys you see here (pointing at players who were at a training session).
They all grew up together and we have been working with them since then. He was not a difficult person to work with and that is why I am not surprised he is doing well; he is very respectful, humble and hardworking.
“He played a lot of youth competitions here with us but after sometime I moved him to play in Onigbongbo Junior League in order to face bigger challenges.
"I handed him over to the head coach there, Chinedu Ogbonna, and he never disappointed him. Even when he was selected for the U-17 team we were going to watch them during the qualifiers for the CAF tournament in Niger.”
Family shocked at rise to stardom
Pa Osimhen now walks tall among his peers today because of his son’s exploit. But according to Andrew, their father was unaware of his son’s talent before he became an international star.
“Honestly speaking my dad is shocked about what Victor is doing, he did not even know the import of what is happening until people started knocking at his door saying ‘was that not your son we saw on TV now?’ Dad had never seen Victor play before; he doesn’t even own a generator to watch him in the ongoing U-17 World Cup in Chile.
"He relies on information from his other children and neighbours. In fact, despite the fact that I was a local star, he saw me play just once. So, Victor’s exploit is surprising to him. Victor’s sisters and the other male child in the family, Samson, are very surprised to see him at this level.”
Striker endures sports festival snub by Lagos
Osimhen probably would have been watching this tournament at home like most Nigerians if the coaches of Lagos State football team preparing for the National Sports Festival had not rejected him when he went there for a trial. “They sent him away not because he was not good enough,” a senior coach in Ultimate Striker FC who did not want his name mentioned said.
“The coach told us that many influential individuals had brought their candidates and there was no way they could accommodate him. And now this same Lagos State has been calling us for discussions since the player has started doing well at the World Cup.”
How he stole Amuneke’s heart in 10 minutes
Osimhen has no godfather, no one gave him a note to Golden Eaglets coach, Emmanuel Amuneke, but the striker only needed 10 minutes to win the heart of his coach during a trial. According to Olorunfemi, they got information about the open screening going on in Lagos and they went there to try their luck.
“We went there the first time but due to a large turnout it did not get to our turn.
"I could not go the second time because I was not feeling well, but Victor went. Luckily, he made it. He told me how coach Amuneke was dismissing strikers that were tested before him in just one minute and before he could get to his turn he was thinking aloud as to what the coach was looking for in those strikers that they could not give him.
"He noticed those ones were not marking very well and he went there to do just what he thought the coach wanted. He collected a ball from a defender in just few minutes on the pitch and scored from that, after just 10 minutes the coach asked him to go and sit down and since then he has been part of the team,” he said.
Family prefers education
Although they see football as profitable, many African parents still believe education provides the surest getaway from poverty. So, Osimen’ parents wanted their child to go in search of a sound education. “Initially I opposed the idea of him facing football squarely, I wanted him to take his education seriously because since I could not go to higher institution, I wanted my younger ones to especially our last born,” Andrew added.
“So, I insisted he faced his studies but when my dad told me somebody had discovered him and promised to help him I had no choice but to succumb.
“When he returned from the CAF U-17 tournament, I told him that whatever deal he would sign later I wanted education to be part of it. I told him he had to have something outside football to fall back on after retiring from the game.”
He is Amuneke’s adopted son
When Osimhen scored his first goal of the tournament in the 2-0 win over USA, he went straight to the coach and prostrated. He said after the match that: “I prostrated before coach Amuneke after the goal against USA to show appreciation for all what I have learned from him,” he stated.
That is the extent of admiration the youngster has for the retired international. Andrew said: “Coach Amuneke obviously likes Victor. He told us he wanted our brother to be staying with him. I think he spent some time with him and I am happy Victor has such a legend to mentor him.”
Where he plays football
Olusosun Primary School serves as the melting pot for youngsters in the community. Every evening they gather for football. The youth in the area protested vehemently when they were barred from playing on the pitch due to a renovation work going at a time. That was where Victor honed his skills, Andrew was a hero on that pitch and although Victor was not as popular in the area as his elder brother, he also commands some followership.
He always wants to win – friends
Many of his friends testified to the fact that Osimhen is a gentle, reserved and almost an introvert, but some of them following close encounters have found out over the years that the striker usually loses his cool on the football pitch.
“He is a fighter when playing football so we are not surprised to see him like that in the Nigerian team,” Orji said.
“Whenever we are playing kick-about football in the community, you could incur his wrath if as a teammate you didn’t play well. He wants to win every game, he can shout at you, abuse you if you stop him from winning. He is a tough opponent as well as sometimes a difficult teammate.
He wants you to give as much as he is giving to the team and if you fall short of that, he can pick up quarrel, that is the time you will see him in bad mood,” Dada Jimoh, another close friend added. Sports gene in the family Apart from being a footballer himself, Andrew confirmed that the sports gene runs in the family.
Their father, Pa Oshimhen, was a popular local wrestler in the village, he also said their late mother was a sprinter and was also popular in her time in the village.
Monitoring his development
We have seen many precocious talents fizzle away after they dazzled the world at age-grade competition. They never actualised their potentials due to several reasons including wrong choice of clubs, loss of focus, overzealous parents, thieving football agents and lack of adequate monitoring. '
'Many young footballers killed their careers before they even started because they went for money not for development when they signed for clubs in Europe,” Andrew said.
“I told Victor that I wanted him to play for a club with a good academy that helps to develop budding talents. Clubs in countries like Belgium and France have good academies; he can go to Arsenal or Barcelona because they also encourage young ones.
"When he told me about the agency stuff I told him he should be careful because I have read a lot about agents taking players to unknown destinations, abandoning them there, collecting certain fees and still leaving players stranded. I told him I wanted to know how things were going on with him.”