There was one observation in Luciano Spalletti’s exuberant praise of the Nigerian that could make all the difference in the season ahead
If the quick double on Saturday’s 3-0 friendly win against Bayern Munich mattered, then Victor Osimhen got the feeling of something really monumental.
In the 2021/22 Serie A season, the center forward enters the most important phase of his young career, in several ways.
His decision to join Napoli last summer after an impressive debut season with French club LOSC Lille for a staggering effort that is considered a record for an African transfer was met with a first wave of optimism.
It is a sign of modern football’s obsession with transfers that status is granted based on the amount of transfer paid; for many, a change of this magnitude immediately shot the 22-year-old into a higher league.
What followed in the first year – a rash of injuries, inconsistencies, and a battle with Covid – showed how much thinned the air is at higher levels.
The uncertainty surrounding Gennaro Gattuso throughout the season did little to add to this, and the gleeful nature of the rest of the attack on Napoli also meant that he was fighting for serve. In addition to his own adaptation to Italian football, his team also had to adapt to him.
Luciano Spalletti, a coach who has made it a habit throughout his career to get the best out of strikers.
While his profile – managing Internazionale and AS Roma, two of Italy’s biggest teams – has been an attractive signing for club president Aurelio De Laurentiis anyway, his work with players like Edin Dzeko and Mauro Icardi will almost certainly become a factor in his Favor.
Napoli’s European ambitions may be well-established at this point, but it’s not the club’s modus operandi to go for expensive goals – if they’re spending a lot, things must turn out well.
So it wouldn’t be far-fetched to see Osimhen’s flourishing as one of Spalletti’s KPIs in San Paolo, and the 62-year-old has already taken on the responsibility.
So far, the Nigerian international has been productive in the preseason, hitting seven out of three games to signal his intention ahead of the new season. The biggest clue as to what’s coming up, however, was Spalletti’s comments after the narrow test win over Pro Vercelli.
After the former Lille scorer scored the only goal of the game, his manager said on the Napoli official website: “Osimhen is a striker who can turn any ball into chances.
“He’s a generous player who runs a lot and every now and then this intense running can be a problem for him [to make] some mistakes, but he’s an important player, completely and we aim at him a lot. “
Aside from Spalletti subscribing to the “compliment sandwich” feedback system, this brief (but nonetheless insightful) statement highlighted perhaps the biggest change the Italian coach wants to make to Osimhen’s game.
For strikers at elite level, calmness in front of the goal is an important factor.
That creates clarity: the ability to quickly – almost unconsciously – go through an infinite number of solutions and come up with the right one separates the good from the great and will often prove the difference in difficult situations.
Despite being a good finisher himself, Osimhen gets his fair share of misses. Every striker does, of course; the argument is not that Napoli misses number 9 more than anyone else. However, the nature of many of these failures is suggestive – they are often examples of his technique failing him in a split second, a phenomenon that Spalletti has associated with the player’s action-packed, busy style.
Osimhen’s pace of work and willingness to pursue any lost cause is arguably part of his appeal and part of what makes him such an exemplary offensive spearhead.
Take that away completely, and he wouldn’t be nearly as effective in leading the line. The tradeoff, however, is sometimes that he is too hectic to reap the reward for his selfless running when he arrives at goal scorer areas. Then it is important to find a balance.
In his previous jobs, Spalletti built systems that less emphasized the need for attackers to withdraw entirely in defensive scenarios.
It not only made it possible for the differentiators to stay in the best positions after losing the ball, but also reduced the number of races they had to complete to make up ground in the attack change up to the last third.
It may seem absurd to say that a footballer can improve by running less.
However, players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lionel Messi have made careers by conserving energy by choosing their moments and although they represent extremes, there is a lesson for Osimhen.
Contrary to popular belief, letting a player do everything they can is not the best way to improve their basic level. The key to truly inhabiting the shift that earned him his transfer fee could be optimizing his game.
He was noticeably less eager in his efforts against Bayern, but his two finishes were an ode to the movement economy that his manager advocates.
In the end, Spalletti’s wise observation was able to prove the origin of Osimhen.