Osimhen: The possibilities as Napoli fall out of love and Conte agreement draws near

After a four-year spell with Napoli, Victor Osimhen’s time in Italy looks set to be coming to an end. The Nigeria international arrived from Lille in 2020 as a scrawny boy with much potential but has since developed into one of the best strikers in the world.

Having shown flashes of his brilliance in his first two seasons with the Partenopei, Osimhen finally announced himself in the 2022/23 campaign, where he fired Napoli to the Serie A title. The 25-year-old completely dominated the season, with his 26 goals earning him the top scorer’s gong in the Italian top flight.

That explosive season made Osimhen a hot cake to Europe’s elite clubs, and while his personal reputation has soared ever since, it has come at the detriment of his relationship with Napoli’s fans who are already resigned to losing their prized asset. Osimhen himself hasn’t done much to distance himself from the transfer speculations, having previously made implicit comments regarding his future.

In recent months, the former Wolfsburg forward has been linked to Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and some Saudi clubs, with the French champions reportedly prepared to meet Napoli’s asking price of €130 million. However, Chelsea are also said to be pushing to sign the striker and would welcome a player-plus-cash deal in order not to breach the Premier League’s Profit and Sustainability Rules. While Osimhen himself has openly stated that he has no desire to go to Saudi Arabia, he appears keen on continuing his adventure in Europe, even if it's not at Napoli.

Victor Osimhen could end Napoli spell on acrimonious terms

Osimhen’s time at Napoli has had its highs, culminating in their title triumph last year, but there have also been some nadirs to the union between player and club. The Nigerian has often tried to repay the faith reposed in him by the Italian side when they paid a whopping €70 million to prise him away from Lille as a 21-year-old.

In December, Osimhen agreed to sign a contract extension with the Partenopei, which saw his release clause pushed upwards to allow the club to make a huge profit on any potential future transfer. However, in-between that concession by the player has been a series of boiling points stretching back almost a year.

In September 2023, Osimhen fell out with then-Napoli manager Rudi Garcia after he was substituted during a game against Bologna after missing a penalty. Incensed by the fact that he had been replaced despite the Partenopei chasing a breakthrough in the game, a frustrated Osimhen could be heard openly berating his manager.

Although Osimhen later apologised to Garcia and his teammates, the tension between the striker and the club would escalate days later when the club’s TikTok account appeared to mock him over his penalty miss against Bologna. 

The club’s TikTok account first posted a video of the striker with the lyrics “I'm not a boy… I'm not a girl… I'm a coconut” and followed it up with another video of a squeaky, sped-up audio of Osimhen appearing to beg for a penalty before going on to miss it. Both videos went viral, leading to Osimhen’s agent Roberto Calenda threatening legal action against Napoli, while the club was also accused of racial abuse and disrespect.

The Nigeria international subsequently deleted all photos of his affiliation with Napoli from his Instagram page. Although everything has seemed calm in recent months, Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis recently started another flame when he appeared to blame the club’s struggles on Osimhen’s inability to stay fit.

Having missed Napoli’s 2-2 draw against Fiorentina on 17 May due to injury, De Laurentiis said, as quoted by  Vesuviolive: “You can't force coaches to train a club or you can't make sure that your first striker scores twenty-eight goals and that he is not ill and that perhaps he participated in 50% of the matches he should have played.”

The latest fallout between Osimhen and Napoli’s fans came over the weekend when he was booed along with the rest of the players following their goalless draw against Lecce. Although the 25-year-old didn’t feature, a section of the home fans accused him of being a mercenary as he walked into the tunnel without saying anything to them. Osimhen’s time with Napoli has yielded many highs but their union could be ending on acrimonious terms by the time he departs in the summer.

Osimhen’s possible fate if Conte and Lukaku join Napoli

Meanwhile, there remains a slim chance that Osimhen could stay at Napoli. The hierarchy of the Partenopei is reportedly pushing to bring in Antonio Conte as current coach Francesco Calzona’s replacement ahead of next season.

According to Sky Sports, Conte is keen on joining the Italian side and will hold a meeting with the club’s officials in the coming days. Area Napoli also reports that should Conte become Napoli’s new manager, he would aim to bring Romelu Lukaku to the Estadio Armando Maradona.

Conte has a good relationship with the Belgian striker, with the pair previously working together at Inter Milan. Although Lukaku is still a Chelsea player despite playing on loan at AS Roma last season, the Blues are open to selling the forward for a cut-price deal. Should Osimhen stay and Conte also sign Lukaku, it might leave the Nigerian striker in the cold.

Osimhen has been Napoli’s main striker since joining the club but Conte usually prefers a physical forward and Lukaku would be a better fit to the Italian manager’s style and formation. These are all tentative but Osimhen could find himself in a tricky situation if Conte arrives with Lukaku. 

Can Osimhen hit new heights under Conte’s Napoli?

Alternatively, Conte could arrive and decide to work with Osimhen. The former Chelsea and Juventus boss is reportedly keen on signing Lukaku because he believes Osimhen will be leaving Napoli in the summer.

But should the Nigeria international decide to stay, he could become a key player under the Italian coach. Osimhen has already established himself at Napoli, but his most successful spell came under Luciano Spalletti, having scored 31 goals under the now-Italy national team coach.

It remains to be seen how Osimhen would fare under a conservative manager like Conte and whether he could take his game to another level. He certainly has the talent and attitude to thrive under any condition, but he’d also have to feel valued to be able to give off his best.

Osimhen’s temper is another thing that could be a problem if he’s to work under Conte. The 54-year-old isn’t new to falling out with egotistic players, having had a frosty relationship with Diego Costa during his time at Chelsea, which ultimately led to him sending the Spanish striker a text to inform him that his services were no longer needed just a few weeks after both had won the Premier League. Football can be unpredictable, though, and a potential union between Osimhen and Conte could just be exactly what Napoli need to return to the top of Italian football.

What will be Osimhen’s legacy after Napoli departure?

Meanwhile, Napoli appear ready to move on should Osimhen part ways with the club this summer. The Partenopei are said to have lined up potential replacements for the 25-year-old, with Victor Boniface, Gabriel Jesus and Joshua Zirkzee all mooted as serious targets.

Should they get their signings right, it means the club would feel less of the brunt of losing Osimhen. And should the club become better without their prized striker, it won’t bode well for Osimhen’s legacy. 

The former Lille forward became a cult hero when he fired Napoli to the Serie A title last year, even earning comparisons with the legendary Diego Maradona. He has also been placed on a higher pedestal than Marek Hamsik, Gonzalo Higuain and Edinson Canavi, but his protracted transfer saga and his recently strained relationship with the fans could affect his legacy at the club when he eventually departs. 

Osimhen: The possibilities as Napoli fall out of love and Conte agreement draws near
Emmanuel Ayamga

Emmanuel Ayamga is an Asante Kotoko fan and a passionate sports journalist with a little over five years of experience writing about African football.

His articles and features have been published in renowned news media like The Guardian, DW, Al Jazeera and Sportskeeda. His bylines can also be found in the UK journals World Soccer Magazine and These Football Times.