In an exclusive interview with Soccernet Nigeria this summer, Victor Osimhen noted his pride at choosing Napoli and winning with them.
“I have never seen a city that is more crazy with football than the Neapolitans are, and they show all their players love. Wherever I go, I am respected, and kids love me. A lot of people admire me, and a lot of people idolize me and put on a replica of my mask.
“I think it shows the hard work I have given them, and what I mean to them. And for me, there is no better place to be than in this place [Naples], and I am so happy I made the right choice by coming here and achieving this type of greatness with the Neapolitans. It is something I will wake up and always smile about.”
Just over the three months later and Osimhen, the finest striker Napoli have boasted in decades, has taken nearly every photo of himself in a Napoli jersey down from his Instagram account. Napoli only have themselves to blame.
By now the infamous TikToks from the Napoli official account have made headlines globally. They even led to the involvement of the Nigerian government; such has been the incredulity expressed over the social media team’s decision to upload two problematic videos with racist undertones.
The earlier one shows an image of the striker with the song “I am a coconut” while the second is of the player asking for and then missing a penalty with a sped up high-pitched voice saying ”gimme penalty please” dubbed over the top. Shocking.
Italian media have noted that the club’s account on this particular social media platform has regularly poked fun at the club’s stars before and said that they are just trying to keep up with the current TikTok trends. A quick search of ‘I am a coconut’ shows that there are over 27.3m views of videos featuring the song.
Napoli released a statement in which they ‘explicitly state that the club never intended to offend or make fun of Victor Osimhen, who is an asset to the club’. An asset. They ended with: ‘If Victor was in any way offended, this was not at all in the club’s intentions.’
Hardly the apology we expected.
Throughout the storm, Osimhen has continued to score, against Udinese and then against Lecce on Saturday afternoon. Professional and determined, he always rises above any situation to provide for his team.
Aurelio de Laurentiis, the president of Napoli, travelled to the Lecce game with the team to mend the relationship with the striker and extend an olive branch, while the individual in charge of creating the TikTok personally apologised to the player.
On Sunday, Osimhen himself finally broke his silence when he uploaded a note on social media to confirm his love for the people of Napoli, who have suffered as they watched him distance himself from the club and insist that any accusations against them are untrue.
“The passion of the people of Naples fuels my fire to always play with my heart and soul, and the love for the badge is unwavering as I wear it with pride,” he said.
He also shut down any accusations against them. Osimhen has always maintained that while he has suffered racism in Italy, Naples was different, a city of brotherhood.
It must also be noted that fans of the club and the Napoli ownership have never seen eye to eye and there’s no love lost between them. The fans have never believed Aurelio de Laurentiis cares enough about the team or the city, while they have frequently vented their anger at a variety of issues from rising prices to security arrangements and restrictions imposed on what they are allowed to bring into the stadium.
From a purely business point of view, De Laurentiis has achieved more than most expected without overextending the club financially. However, his handling of important relationships is beginning to cause serious damage.
Luciano Spalletti, the famed coach who Osimhen described as a genius, wrote history when he won the Scudetto with the team. It was his crowning achievement as a coach and the city celebrated relentlessly. His reward? A notification that the club had activated the option to extend his contract by a year.
After winning the league title, there was an expectation that he would sit down with the president, discuss a new contract and be shown how much he was wanted by the club – not just given notice that he will be around for one year longer.
Spalletti was looking for the club to show faith in him and have a discussion about what he wanted, going forward.
He didn’t get that.
Despite Spalletti’s close bond with his squad and the fans, the 64-year-old decided he was too exhausted to continue at Napoli. Perhaps had he been celebrated in the manner he deserved, he would have stayed on to produce another season of wonder. He has instead accepted the role as manager of the Italian national team.
Napoli now risk losing Osimhen. His contract ends in June 2025 and despite negotiations to renew over the summer, nothing was ever signed. He may be an asset to the club, but he represents so much more to the fans and his team-mates.
“It was summer  and after a fairly hard training session I was talking to [midfielder Frank] Anguissa,” recounted Osimhen to Corriere della Sera.
“I told him: ‘Frank, you know that our team is strong, we can really try to win the Scudetto no?’ He was sceptical but I convinced him. Spalletti approached us and asked what we were talking about. I tell him. He looks at me and says ‘if your team-mates are convinced, like you are, then we can try’.”
Osimhen was the first believer and Osimhen was the man who planted the seed that culminated in a season to remember for I Partenopei.
The title was a result of a group effort by Napoli. The brilliant scouting of talent, the excellent management of Spalletti, the wonder of Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and the defence of Kim Min-jae – but Osimhen was the extraordinary one. He was the top goalscorer, the psychological leader and chief cheerleader, constantly working to push the team forward.
The most common adjective used to describe Osimhen by the media is ‘generous’. Generous in his style of play, generous in his praise of team-mates, generous with his support. He pushed Napoli further than they even imagined to be possible.
He celebrated wildly on the sidelines when his replacement Giovanni Simeone scored the winner in the match against Roma, while he rushed to lift up Kvara’s chin when he missed a penalty against Eintracht Frankfurt in the Champions League, reminding him to keep his head held high.
Sadly, he wasn’t afforded the same love by his own club.
Osimhen’s celebrations of the goals he scored this week were muted, and now there’s a tricky match to contest against Real Madrid in the Champions League.
In Osimhen the fans trust and they will stand by him until the end, but he has made no secret of his desire to play for the biggest and the best one day. Has the club done enough to keep him? It’s time Napoli realise the importance of relationships and how to give back to the men who wrote their history.
Mina Rzouki is a European football journalist and broadcaster who is writing for BBC Sport this season. If you have a question on European football that you’d like to ask her, then fill out the form below and she will answer a selection of them in subsequent columns.
If the form doesn’t load properly, go straight to it here…