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Victor Osimhen’s first year at Napoli: Disaster or success?

16:00 BST 27/05/2021
Osimhen Napoli
Does the Partenopei’s final day failure, which cost them a Champions League spot, diminish the Nigerian’s late-season upswing?

After every non-cross or delayed delivery into the box, Victor Osimhen’s frustration grew as Napoli’s Champions League qualification hopes drifted away.

The striker, probably aware of the Azzurri’s need for all three points, was visibly animated when moves broke down, a pass or cross was delayed, or an attack didn’t result in an effort on target.

The Naples outfit had their fate in their hands before the start of the final game: win vs Hellas Verona at home and return to the Champions League. It should have been straightforward…

However, they performed disappointingly and, as the night developed, hoped for an Atalanta victory over AC Milan in Bergamo, especially as Juventus had raced into a 4-0 halftime lead at Bologna.

What frustrated on the night, aside from the eventual 1-1 result, of course, was the manner of their performance, strangely analogous to how they’d played in the main since their improvement since February.

Having accrued more points (33) than every team in Serie A not named Inter Milan or Atalanta (both 35 points) since that 4-2 defeat by La Dea on February 21, the Partenopei had little business letting things slip vs Verona on their turf.

Even more encouraging in that run of results were the performances which saw them blow away Lazio 5-2, school Spezia 4-1 and obliterate Udinese 5-1.

Their 2-0 win at Fiorentina on the penultimate gameweek of the season looked to tip the scales in their favour, especially as they faced Ivan Juric’s team that had picked up six points from 12 heading into the final day face off in Naples.

Verona may be an awkward side to play against, but Napoli’s rather lifeless performance for the entire game was rather stupefying. They froze. They forgot to play. They bottled it!

At the risk of being alarmist, it quenches the positivity that had developed in Naples, regardless of Aurelio De Laurentiis’ somewhat tyrannical rule and continued disruptive influence.

Their failure to make the Champions League spots for the second season running could have disturbing ramifications for the side who splurged on Osimhen to add the firepower needed to return to Europe’s elite competition.

The striker, however, not only faces the prospect of playing Europa League football for two years running but also being left with egg on his face having left a Lille side last year that then went on to win Ligue 1 for the first time in 10 years.

Who knows what might have been?

His chequered season was ending on a high and there were encouraging signs for next season, even though it was obvious his beloved Gattuso was due to depart and upheaval was imminent.

The former AC Milan icon’s eventual 56.8 win percentage in all competitions was higher than every Napoli boss to have coached 20 games or higher except Maurizio Sarri and he probably deserved to continue for another season.

Instead, Osimhen is going to start next season playing under his third manager in three campaigns.

Without CL football, it remains to be seen if the Partenopei attract the sort of names that’ll give them a chance of returning to the continent’s top competition.

Taking the Nigeria star in isolation, the last couple of months put some gloss on what was turning into a disaster of a year in Serie A. His bright start may not have yielded returns in front of goal, but the all-round menace and developing connection with his teammates at the beginning offered loads of encouragement.

It’s no surprise the forward was involved in more shot-creating actions per 90 this year (3.47) than last season (1.73) and his goal-creating actions per 90 took a little bump from 0.28 to 0.40 this term.

When the goals eventually came following a timely return to fitness after his layoff and illness, Osimhen was near unplayable and netted seven times in the last 11 Serie A games. Throw in two assists in the final weeks of the campaign and nine goal contributions in 11 has a nice ring to it.

Despite the mid-way drop off, the young striker’s 10 goals in 16 starts in 20/21 was quite impressive. By contrast, he scored 13 Ligue 1 goals in 25 starts last term at a frequency of a goal every 176 minutes. This season, it was down to a strike every 158 minutes.

Admittedly, the aforementioned numbers may be far from top class, but it puts a bit of perspective on a testing season in a new league and new country for Napoli’s record signing.

Be that as it may, the lack of continuity in the dugout and the possibility of Lorenzo Insigne departing mean optimistic predictions for next season may be ill-advised.

As for this season, Osimhen did alright in his debut campaign but needs a whole lot more next term. Whether he can guarantee that amid the intense and sometimes poisonous atmosphere in Naples, however, remains to be seen.