Victor Osimhen joined Napoli from French club Lille in July 2020

Napoli striker Victor Osimhen says mental strength and a determination to prove the doubters wrong has been key in helping him overcome another challenging season in Italy.

The Nigeria international has scored 16 times in 28 appearances in club competitions this season.

He has achieved this even though some wrote him off after a serious facial injury in November which ruled him out of this year’s Africa Cup of Nations.

The 23-year-old has been forced to wear a protective mask since returning to action in mid-January but it has not affected his form, as he had notched seven goals in his past 10 Serie A outings

“From the moment I had my surgery, I read some people saying ‘The season is over for him’,” Osimhen told BBC Sport Africa.

“‘When he comes back, he wouldn’t go head-to-head with a defender’. ‘Even with a mask, he cannot nod the ball’ and stuff like that.

“Most of all those doubts are actually a motivation to me. Because I know myself and I know the kind of heart that I’ve got. To be able to be back and keep the goals coming is a big thing for me.

“I appreciate people that have worked so hard with me to make sure I’m okay even when I had the surgery and everything.

“They probably doubted me returning to my best because of the impact the facial incident could’ve had on my mental health.”

It was July 2020 when Osimhen joined Napoli from French club Lille in July 2020 in a five-year deal that was reportedly worth more than $96m, although other reports put the figure closer to $80m.

His move to Italy came after a breakthrough year with Lille in 2019-20 which saw him win that season’s Marc-Vivien Foe award for the best African player in France’s Ligue 1, after he scored 18 goals in all competitions.

Hampered by injury, suspensions, and coronavirus-related problems in his debut season in Italy, Osimhen managed 10 goals and three assists in 30 games.

A section of the country’s media had labelled him one of the league’s major flops before the start of the current campaign, but the striker believes his performances tell another story.

“I must thank all those who stood by me,” he said. “I appreciate the love.

“Of course, I want to keep on going and kudos to my teammates – they’ve been supportive to me, on and off the pitch. And I think this is the most important thing that any footballer can ask for.”

‘I will do it anywhere I go’

Victor Osimhen in action for Napoli
Osimhen has already played for clubs in Germany, Belgium, France and Italy at the age of 23

After excelling in the Belgian league with Charleroi and then France’s Ligue 1, Osimhen, who began his professional career in the German Bundesliga with Wolfsburg, admits the Italian league is one of the toughest in the world.

“It’s really physical, just like what we’ve been hearing before I even became a professional footballer,” he added.

“Tactically, they’re really sound. The defenders are strong and disciplined too.

“But a player [like me] never backs down no matter the circumstances, no matter the score line, no matter the team I play. I want to go so hard, I want to go so extreme to get my goals to try to help the team.

“I believe without these early setbacks, I can actually do more. And I challenge myself into doing more than I have done in the previous seasons.

“Of course, I did it in Belgium. I did it in Lille. Of course, I will always do it anywhere I go.”

After making a solitary appearance at the 2019 Nations Cup with Nigeria, he has since scored 10 goals and provided six assists in 21 matches for the three-time African champions.

Osimhen burst into the spotlight at the 2015 Under-17 World Cup in Chile, as he clinched the Golden Boot and Silver Ball awards while steering the Golden Eaglets to the title.

The then-16-year-old scored a tournament-record 10 goals, netting in every one of Nigeria’s games, in a performance that helped earn him Africa’s Youth Player of the Year award for 2015.

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