Victor Osimhen, conspicuously absent from the Champions League quarter-final first leg lost to AC Milan (1-0), is back in the Naples attack and carries the hopes of an entire city called to unite Tuesday at back behind Luciano Spalletti’s team.
Mike Maignan was the main architect of Milan’s victory last week with several decisive saves. But the French goalkeeper knows that he will have to repeat his exploits in the boiling Diego-Maradona stadium, where a recovered Osimhen awaits him after having had to give up the trip to San Siro.
The Nigerian, too tight to go due to discomfort in an adductor, found the field for twenty minutes on Saturday against Hellas Verona (0-0). The one who had confessed his relief the day before on Instagram – “It feels good to be back” – did not score but reassured the tifosi with a nice half-volley on the bar.
Without its 25-goal striker (21 in Serie A, top scorer, 4 in C1), who returned injured from Nigeria’s last meeting at the end of March, Naples has lacked depth and an anchor point in front in recent weeks.
– “Wave of enthusiasm” –
Without him, Naples lost twice against Milan, swept 4-0 in the league at home on April 2 before the setback in C1. At San Siro, attacking midfielder Eljif Elmas had been established in false 9, also due to the injury of the other center forward Giovanni Simeone.
“Osimhen has this physique where you can throw the ball to him in space and he keeps it,” his coach Luciano Spalletti recalled on Saturday.
“And then when he comes in, he always raises a wave of enthusiasm in the team, it’s these players made of another dough,” he added, aware of his side’s dependence on the prized Nigerian goalscorer. 24, who has shown growing efficiency since his arrival in the summer of 2020 (53 goals, in 91 matches, in all competitions).
The ex-Lillois, despite a few regular injuries linked to a total commitment, is living his most successful season, in particular thanks to his agreement with winger Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.
The Nigerian is full of praise for the 22-year-old Georgian: “He is an incredible guy and an incredible player. He has a long road ahead of him, he is capable of winning the Ballon d’Or”, launched “Osi” in early March.
– Osimhen’s “mission” –
But he also knows what he owes to the experience of Spalletti, 64, who has sometimes been able to frame him: “He helped me a lot in my growth as a goalscorer and as a man. He has a share in what I have become,” he told the foreign press in Rome.
The Neapolitan passion for Osimhen is displayed around the stadium and in the streets of the city, with frescoes on the walls or a new pastry shop in his honor. His protective mask, worn since his violent shock with Milan Skriniar last season, is also the most fashionable accessory among the youngest.
“When you arrive in Napoli you fall even more in love with football, because people’s whole life is based on this game and their support for the team. Being able to give them something they will remember is a big mission for me”, assures Osimhen who, in addition to the scudetto already practically in his pocket with a 14-point lead at the top of Serie A eight days from the end, dreams of taking Napoli to a very first C1 semi-final.
Perked up by the return of its new masked superhero, the packed Diego-Maradona stadium (nearly 55,000 spectators) is ready to roar.
And a priori again with one voice after the call for unity launched in recent days by Luciano Spalletti and President Aurelio De Laurentiis to calm the recent revolt of part of the “ultras” against the club’s policy judged too commercial.