Nigeria football legend Emmanuel Amuneke, while speaking to BBC Sport Africa, was full of admiration for Victor Osimhen.
Amuneke, who coached Osimhen in under-age competitions, said more should be expected from the Nigerian superstar after finishing eighth in the 2023 men's Ballon d'Or.
The 24-year-old was the top African player in this year's rankings, and became the highest-placed Nigerian and also Napoli player in the award's selection since its inception in 1956.
Osimhen's finish in the rankings followed a remarkable 2022/23 season in which he scored 26 Serie A goals to help Napoli win their first Scudetto in 33 years.
Osimhen also became the highest-scoring African in a Serie A season, breaking the previous record held by 1995 Ballon d'Or winner George Weah.
Amuneke had this to say about Victor Osimhen
“There is no doubt about his character, in terms of his desire and zeal to achieve something, succeed and win,” Amuneke, who coached Osimhen while in charge as Nigeria Under-17 coach, said.
“As a coach at youth level, that was something that made me admire him. That is one of the best attributes for a player to make it to the highest stage.”
Victor Osimhen: AFCON qualifiers' top scorer
Victor Osimhen also finished as the top scorer in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers with 10 goals, helping the Super Eagles of Nigeria book a place in Côte d'Ivoire next year.
The EaglesTracker Footballer of the Year is the favourite to win the 2023 Confederation of African Football (CAF) Men's Player of the Year award.
Osimhen was nominated on the 30-man long-list for the award, and he will battle Liverpool and Egypt forward Mohamed Salah, Manchester United and Cameroon goalkeeper Andre Onana, and Morocco right-back Achraf Hakimi, who plays for PSG in France, for the title.
2023 CAF Player of the Year Nominees. pic.twitter.com/2gN6pp3TM8
— Africa Facts Zone (@AfricaFactsZone) November 1, 2023
The winner will be announced in December at a ceremony in Marrakech, Morocco, and could see Osimhen become the first Nigerian to claim the top podium finish since former Arsenal forward Kanu Nwankwo in 1999.
Emmanuel Amuneke on the CAF Player of the Year award
“We hope he [Victor Osimhen] wins the CAF award with what he has done for his club and the national team,” he continued.
Regardless of not playing at the World Cup [held in Qatar last year], he has been able to establish himself as a worthy contender.”
Amuneke is one of the Nigerian football legends to have clinched the CAF award in the past – he won the African player of the year award in 1994.
The former U-17 coach also recalled how teenage Osimhen almost missed out on making Nigeria's squad for the U-17 World Cup in 2015.
Nonetheless, he was eventually selected to travel to Chile and made history by scoring 10 goals as the Golden Eaglets won the title for the record fifth time.
The 52-year-old said: “We actually had a lot of strikers during the screening. I paired each of the players in groups and his set played badly. I already ignored Victor with other players in his set but my backroom staff drew my attention to him.
“I gave him another chance and he proved himself to make the squad.”
Since then, Osimhen has grown in leaps and bounds to become one of the most feared strikers in the world at the moment.
He is currently in Nigeria recovering from a hamstring injury, and has scored six goals in eight league appearances for Napoli this season.
‘There's a whole lot to be planned and implemented' in order to win the AFCON
Osimhen is expected to lead the line for Nigeria at the Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast in January after missing the 2021 edition in Cameroon.
Now based in the Spanish city of Santander, Amuneke believes Osimhen and the Super Eagles have the quality to win the 2023 Nations Cup in Ivory Coast next year.
Nigeria are three-time continental champions, and they last conquered Africa in the 2013 edition in South Africa when Stephen Keshi's side, inspired by John Mikel Obi and Sunday Mbah, brought joy to many Nigerians.
“We are blessed with a crop of talented players, but we can't go to the tournament merely thinking we can win because we have good players,” Amuneke continued.
“Winning Afcon is not about players – there's a whole lot to be planned and implemented.”
Amuneke scored twice in the final against Zambia in Nigeria's second AFCON title win in Tunisia, 1994.
Amuneke's advice to Super Eagles coach Jose Peseiro
The former CAF Player of the Year also took the time to give some words of advice to Peseiro ahead of the next AFCON tournament. He said:
“The offensive players must also be a part of the defence, especially when the team is not in possession.
“The coach should take a holistic look at his team and find a solution to make them compete well against other teams.”
Nigeria have been drawn in Group A along with the hosts Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea and Guinea-Bissau.
The Super Eagles failed to make it past the Round of 16 in the last edition after a spotless group stage campaign that Austin Eguavoen led.
This article was most recently revised and updated 4 weeks ago