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Nigeria’s Osimhen named African player of the year

Napoli’s Nigeria striker Victor Osimhen was named men’s African player of the year on Monday during a ceremony organised by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) in Marrakesh, Morocco.

Osimhen, who led Napoli to win the Italian League title last season, beat Paris Saint-Germain’s Morocco right-back, Achraf Hakimi and Liverpool’s Egypt winger, Mohamed Salah, to win the top award.

“It’s a dream come true for me,” Osimhen said.

“I appreciate Nigerians for their support. I appreciate Africa for putting me on the map, encouraging me, and defending me, regardless of my shortcomings,” the 24-year-old added.

Osimhen excelled last season for Napoli, after scoring 31 goals in all competitions and contributing to them winning the Italian League title after a drought that lasted 33 years.

Napoli estimate Osimhen’s market value at approximately 200 million euros ($215 million).

Osimhen was spotted by European scouts at the 2015 edition of the under-17 World Cup in Chile and joined German outfit Wolfsburg.

He was loaned to Charleroi and later joined the Belgian club permanently. His next move was to French side Lille in 2019, where he scored 13 goals in 27 appearances.

Napoli signed him one year later for 70 million euros ($75 million), but he contracted Covid-19 during a visit to Nigeria and later suffered a head injury and a fractured skull and eye socket.

Those injuries led Osimhen to wear a protective mask and sections of the media called him the “masked assassin”.

He missed the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon due to the injuries, and Nigeria suffered a shock last-16 loss to Tunisia.

Injury prone

Osimhen was the leading scorer with 10 goals in qualifying for the 2024 Cup of Nations, which the Ivory Coast will host from January 13.

His total included four in a 10-0 rout of Sao Tome e Principe—a record winning margin for a qualifier in the competition.

Injury-prone Osimhen was sidelined again two months ago after suffering a hamstring injury in a friendly match against Saudi Arabia.

The regular absences of the Nigerian angered Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis, who reacted by saying he would sign no more Africans unless they agreed to skip the Cup of Nations.   

Morocco last year became the first African and Arab country to reach the World Cup semi-finals and goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, his teammates and coach Walid Regragui were honoured in Marrakesh.

Bounou was named goalkeeper of the year, Regragui coach of the year and Morocco the national team of the year.

Barcelona forward Asisat Oshoala completed a Nigerian double by winning the African Women’s player of the year for a record-extending sixth time. 

Born in Ikorodu, north-east of commercial capital Lagos, her previous successes came in 2014, 2016, 2017, 2019 and 2022.

After playing for Nigerian clubs Robo and Rivers Angels, she had spells with Liverpool, Arsenal and Dalian Quanjian before an initial loan move to Barcelona became permanent four years ago. 

Oshoala scored in a win over co-hosts Australia that helped Nigeria reach the 2023 Women’s World Cup round of 16, where they lost to England on penalties.

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