Victor Boniface: Perfect Osimhen partner or potential usurper?

Atop the Bundesliga, leading Bayern Munich by the sort of margin by which the league's other teams tend to trail the perennially dominant Bavarians in the latter stages of the season, Bayer Leverkusen needed just one more win to seal a maiden top-flight title in its 120 years of existence – also a first major silverware in over three decades – going into the final six games of the 2023/24 campaign.

Even if that eventuality was pretty much inevitable, such has been the gulf between them and everyone else that Xabi Alonso's team wasn't taking a rain-check on the first opportunity to get the job done.

For a side that hadn't lost a game in all competitions throughout the season, winning all but four of their previous 28 league matches, there was very little doubt in the mind of the Leverkusen faithful that their team would do the needful when bottom-half Werder Bremen came to town last Sunday — and that's exactly what happened.

The undoubted star of the show was German wonderkid Florian Wirtz, who came off the bench at the break to wrap up an emphatic 5-0 victory with a second-half hat-trick, but it was one of the team’s other stars, Victor Boniface, who got the party started in the 25th minute.

Victor Boniface: Perfect Osimhen partner or potential usurper?
Photo by Icon Sport

The Nigerian fired a penalty hard and low to the left of goalkeeper Michael Zetterer, after teammate Jonas Hofmann had been brought down.

From that point onwards, with Leverkusen buoyed on by a Bay Arena crowd that was as expectant as it was ecstatic, there wasn't much to suggest the game was going any other way.

Boniface: Nigeria's most in-form striker

It was the 18th strike overall for Boniface this season. Add that to his nine assists and, spread across his 27 club appearances, it means the 22-year-old hasn't gone a single game without being involved directly in a goal.

That's a ridiculously impressive return, considering this is only Boniface's first season in Germany and also the fact that he's missed more than two months of the season with an adductor injury.

For context, the only Nigerian striker in any of Europe's so-called ‘Big Five’ leagues that comes close to Boniface's numbers is a certain Victor Osimhen, who has also played 27 games, but with ‘only’ scored 15 goals and four assists for set-to-be-dethroned Italian champions Napoli.

While that is no shame for Osimhen, one of the most coveted forwards in the world right now, it's certainly a downgrade on the 36 in 39 he registered last term; unless there is some spectacular late-season surge for a Napoli team that's nothing like it was in the 2022/23 campaign and is struggling to even secure an European ticket this time around, he won't be matching those numbers.

A tale of two Victors: Peseiro's unfulfilled desire

Osimhen is, of course, the first-choice striker for the Nigerian national team, the Super Eagles, leading the line with aplomb at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) earlier this year.

But despite putting in a great all-round shift at the tournament, Osimhen only scored once, with then Nigeria head coach Jose Peseiro having to rely on the likes of Ademola Lookman, and even centre-back William Troost-Ekong, for the goals that powered the team to the final.

Boniface, flying high at the time for Leverkusen, was hopeful of making his tournament debut for Nigeria, but was denied that opportunity by the aforementioned injury setback. It required that Peseiro tweak his system and tactics to employ Osimhen as the sole focal point in attack, rather than employ Boniface alongside his namesake to create a more dynamic structure.

“I will say that Boniface would have made the difference without injury,” Peseiro lamented after the final, eventually lost to hosts Ivory Coast. 

“He was very confident and can play comfortably in our two-man attacking style. He can also play on both sides of the strikers and that would have made him our invisible arc in the tournament. Our options to refine our style were limited in his absence.”

Sunday Oliseh's praise amplifies Boniface's expectations

Boniface's prowess on the field and remarkable feat feat with Leverkusen have not only garnered accolades from fans and pundits alike but has also caught the attention of national team coach from Nigeria legend Sunday Oliseh.

In a recent post on X, Oliseh expressed his admiration for the Nigerian striker, highlighting his versatility and leadership qualities. “Victor Boniface was once again extraordinary as Leverkusen grabbed its first-ever Bundesliga title with 5 games left to play,” Oliseh remarked. “Boniface is strong, skillful, intelligent, mobile, calm under pressure, and I am convinced he will lead Nigeria to AFCON glory & more soon. Congrats Bro!!”

A dilemma for the next Nigeria boss?

With that in mind, it would be interesting to see what the next Nigeria manager decides to do with Boniface and Osimhen.

They may well find value — as the now-departed Peseiro apparently did — in playing both together as, though not too dissimilar in the way they operate, each brings different strengths to the Super Eagles table.

Osimhen, a 35-cap and 21-goal [relative] veteran, has greater experience and is of a higher profile, but Boniface is also on an upward curve and definitely one of European football's most exciting prospects at the moment, especially after his exploits with Leverkusen this season.

The latter, though, is the more in-form alternative, based purely on his figures this season — despite not scoring for Nigeria since his September 2023 bow — and should Peseiro's successor prefer to stick with the one-up-top approach which nearly took Nigeria to glory at the AFCON, Osimhen's status as the go-to man may be under serious threat.

Avatar photo
Godfred Budu

Godfred Budu, a Ghanaian sports journalist, brings a dynamic perspective to the field with over a decade of experience. Having contributed to esteemed platforms such as Kickgh.com and Inkandkicks.com. Godfred is recognised for his insightful commentary and in-depth analysis of African football.
His passion for storytelling and commitment to accuracy have established him as a trusted authority in sports journalism in Ghana, captivating audiences with his engaging narratives and unparalleled expertise.
Godfred holds a degree in Integrated Development Studies (Social and Development Administration option) from the University for Development Studies, Ghana.