Nigeria defended the Under-17 World Cup title on Sunday by beating Mali 2:0 in an all-African final in Chile. The Golden Eaglets also took center stage when it came to the individual honors.
Captain Kelechi Nwakali won the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player. With 10 goals, a new tournament record, striker Victor Osimhen won the golden boot as well as the silver ball as the competition’s second best player.
Nigeria claimed their historic fifth world title and became only the second side to retain the FIFA U-17 World Cup, after Brazil successfully defended it in 1999. And the nation has one man, or rather one boy, to thank for their latest success.
Three weeks ago nobody could have predicted that Victor Osimhen would break the tournament record of highest number of goals scored.
He was favorite to win the Adidas Golden Ball, having scored 39 goals in 71 outings for his country at that point, but the boy from Lagos went a step further and would change history.
“Playing for the Golden Eaglets has boosted my confidence but I don’t see myself special amongst my teammates. I dreamt about playing for the national team and gradually, I have settled down into the U-17 team. I really thank God for helping me to be part of this team. In school, I played in some competitions but there is nothing like playing for the national team. Success of the team comes first and it is always my aspiration to always score goals for the team when I’m given the opportunity to play,” noted Osimhen.
The record was jointly held by France’s Florent Sinama-Pongelle and Souleymane Coulibaly of Cote ’d’ Ivoire – both of them with 9 goals. However, Nigeria’s attacking machine surpassed the mark by scoring a total of 10 goals. He also became the first player to score at least one goal in all seven games of the tournament.
Osimhen put his side 1:0 up on four occasions, paving the way to the trophy for him and his teammates by firing pin point passes from Chinedu Madueke into the net.
The boy whose name means ‘God is good’ was born on 29 December 1998 and he is currently playing for the Ultimate Strikers Academy club in Nigeria as a central forward. The young Nigerian admitted that a number of individuals have had a decisive role in his career.
“Though I was born with the talent, I also learned playing football by watching my elder brother. He used to play as a striker for the senior team of a neighborhood club. I joined the club later and I aspired to be better than him. He didn’t play football for long because he was also a newspaper vendor on the streets in Lagos. Nothing interested me more than playing football and I really thank God for where I am today.”
But, everything could have been radically different for the 1,85 m tall striker.
The youngest in a family of six, the player revealed that he sold trinkets on the side of the road to contribute to the family’s income before finding football. Aside from the danger of oncoming traffic, the sellers often had to sprint to catch up with speeding cars in order to receive payment for their items.
For a child so young, there is also the danger of losing what earnings you managed to make to bullies or pickpockets. As Solace Chukwu from Goal.com noticed, Osimhen must have learned to stand up for himself and be aware of his surroundings, traits which stand a forward in excellent stead against physical, aggressive defenders. However, he was determined not to let go of his first love.
“I really hustled on the streets of Lagos and toyed with the idea of doing so many things initially. I sold things like sachet water in traffic but I knew the only thing I wanted to do was play football though I have other talents.”
He survived his very poor childhood and is now on the right track to follow in the steps of former African Footballer of the Year and Ivorian legend, Didier Drogba, for whom he has great admiration.
“Drogba has always been a source of inspiration for me because he is the type of player that doesn’t give up and I like his fighting spirit. He is very passionate – always serious on the field and whatever the circumstance, he would try and score for his team.”
Osimhen might follow the footsteps of his idol earlier than he thought, with Liverpool and Tottenham already having shown interest.
The Reds in particular seem to be impressed, having reportedly preparing a £700,000 bid to sign the highly-rated youngster. Chelsea and Manchester City are also understood to have matched Liverpool’s offer.
Victor Osimhen is a new football star. He made history in Chile but his biggest guide in the game still rest on the words of former England captain Alan Shearer ‘football’s not just about scoring goals – it’s about winning’.