The night of 11 December 2023 will be remembered as a night of big wins in Nigerian football as Super Eagles and Napoli forward, Victor Osimhen, was crowned the 2023 CAF Men’s Player of the Year. In the awards ceremony held at the Palais des Congrès in Marrakech, Morocco, Osimhen won his first African Player of The Year Award ahead of Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah and Paris Saint-Germain’s Achraf Hakimi.
Hence, he becomes the first Nigerian to win the coveted prize since Nwankwo Kanu did so in 1999.
Osimhen’s accolade comes after a remarkable 2022/2023 season during which he led the charge in Napoli’s Serie A title win for the first time since Diego Maradona’s exploits in 1990. The Nigerian produced 26 league goals and five assists in 32 appearances to win the Golden Boot and emerge the Serie A Player of the Season.
Osimhen smashed several goalscoring records including that of 1995 Ballon d’Or winner and Liberia President, George Weah, to become the highest-scoring African in the Italian top-flight.
Furthermore, he registered five UEFA Champions League goals in six matches on the way to a quarter-final finish in the competition. It was no surprise then, that the 24-year-old finished eighth in the 2023 Ballon d’Or standings, the highest-ranked Nigerian in the history of the award.
Indeed, Osimhen has now solidified his place among the best players in the world due to his lofty achievements which also include becoming the first African to win the Italian Footballers’ Association Player of The Year.
The marksman has duly been lighting it up on the international stage as he finished the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers as top scorer with 10 goals. This individual victory is the biggest possible honour in African football and the Nigerian has significantly put a stop to the recent dominance of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah with the award.
Osimhen is now the sixth Nigerian to win the coveted prize (after Rashidi Yekini, Emmanuel Amunike, Victor Ikpeba and Kanu Nwankwo twice), equaling a record set by Ivory Coast. But the West Africans enjoyed a clean sweep on the awards night thanks to victories in the Women’s categories.
Asisat Oshoala retained the CAF Women’s Player Of The Year Award to claim a record-extending sixth prize as she edged out South Africa’s Thembi Kgatlana and Zambia’s Barbara Banda.
The Barcelona ace scored 27 goals in a treble-winning campaign for the Blaugranes as they won Liga F, the UEFA Women’s Champions League and the Supercopa de España Femenina.
Oshoala’s international teammate, Chiamaka Nnadozie, was also named the first-ever CAF Women’s Goalkeeper of The Year while the Super Falcons were awarded the Women’s National Team of The Year after reaching the Round Of 16 of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup with an unbeaten record.
Four Nigerians in total (Osimhen, Oshoala, Osinachi Ohale and Michelle Alozie) were named in both CAF Men’s and Women’s XI of The Year, making it a relatively successful year for individual players from the country.
With Osimhen, Oshoala and Nnadozie all leading the ranks in their respective playing positions, the bar has been raised even higher for young Nigerian players in the coming years.
The Napoli striker will particularly see his stock rise as he continues to be courted by Premier League and European heavyweights.
This means all eyes will be on Osimhen at the 2023 AFCON as he attempts to lift an underperforming Super Eagles side to a memorable campaign in Ivory Coast.
The Olusosun-raised star constantly references his predecessors as having inspired him while growing up including Didier Drogba as well as Nigerian forwards like Nwankwo Kanu, Obafemi Martins and Rashidi Yekini. Osimhen once again mentioned Drogba, Emmanuel Adebayo and Salomon Kalou in his African POTY acceptance speech to emphasize the influence of past players in shining the path for African youngsters, giving them a right to dream.
Certainly, the headline-grabbing goals of previous stalwarts caused a younger Osimhen to believe he could do the same at the highest level of the sport. His career is thanks to their motivation but the Super Eagles number 9 is already matching his heroes whilst simultaneously inspiring the next generation of talents who will one day break his records.
So far, Osimhen’s greatest legacy is in the mere fact that each goal scored only influences more and more lives similar to his humble beginnings on the unforgiving streets of Lagos State, Nigeria.
He may now be Africa’s best and eighth-best in the world for 2023, but Osimhen, alongside Oshoala and Nnadozie, have hopefully already inspired the next best in the world from Africa.