The Napoli striker’s outburst in response to honest, well-meaning criticism from the former African Footballer of the Year was ugly and betrays a mentality inimical to growth and introspection
Remarkable as it reads, Super Eagles striker Victor Osimhen arguably makes as many headlines for his social media activity as he does for his on-field exploits.
His Twitter feed is a veritable trove of memes, banter and piss-taking; a defiant stand taken against the buttoned-up, overly professional image that most footballers strive for. In his mind, the medium exists for him to say whatever bubbles to the top of his mind at any given point. If that means sniping back at trolls with insults and cussing, so be it.
His latest outburst, however, may well have gone too far.
In his crosshairs this time is former Nigeria international Victor Ikpeba, who is taking quite a bit of flak for having the audacity to comment on his namesake’s decision-making during the Super Eagles 1-1 draw against Ghana in Abuja.
Speaking on SuperSport, the former Monaco striker faulted Osimhen’s two bicycle kick attempts in the second half, the implication being that the Napoli forward had a little more time and could have selected a different execution. “He needs to understand when to play the ball and when to play bicycle kicks,” Ikpeba said.
Now, it’s important to state that, relative to the level of performance of the rest of the team on the day, Osimhen was one of the better players against the Black Stars. His intensity and desire had the Ghana defence in difficulty at various points, but most especially in the first half when his eagerness bordered on vendetta.
The decision of Ghana coach Otto Addo to go to a back five at the start of the second half reduced the space the 23-year-old had to work with, but he still looked the Super Eagles’ likeliest route to a second, tie-winning goal right up until the very end.
With that in mind, it is worth asking what more he could have done, and it does seem a little unfair that Ikpeba singled him out for criticism.
However, to look at it that way – as Osimhen appears to have done – would be to miss the fuller picture, and to react in the manner that the forward has is not only deeply disrespectful, but calls into question his good judgment.
First of all, and not that this should need to be said, Osimhen could do a lot worse than listen to Ikpeba as far as finishing goes. We are talking about a former African Footballer of the Year winner and Olympic gold medallist after all, one whose goals propelled Monaco to Champions League and UEFA Cup semi-finals. Even with the wind of an African-record transfer fee in his sail, his younger counterpart would do well to so much as emulate that; this is clearly not some random person ranting at a news stand.
However, even if Ikpeba had been John Q. Public, he would still deserve respect and a fair consideration of the content of his opinion. For Osimhen to brand him ‘agbaya’ (a pejorative term for an elderly person lacking the dignity befitting his age) and ‘isonu’ (loosely translating to worthless) was just way out of line, and should not be applauded by any means.
Quite why or how Nigerian footballers as a corpus has such thin skin deserves a different article in itself, but legitimate, fair criticism is a backbone of punditry, and ex-footballers have as much a right as anyone else to air their views without being subjected to ridicule on that basis. If their opinion is presented free of invective and ill-feeling (and Ikpeba went on to praise Osimhen in the same interview), it should be, at the very least, taken in good faith.
As stated earlier, Osimhen has previous when it comes to making unguarded comments on social media, and as to whether he needs to curb that, the jury remains out. You can just about see both sides of the argument: a more human aspect to the feeds of top athletes is desirable, but at the same time understanding the responsibility that comes with owning large platforms is imperative. There is not a thin line between authenticity and uncouthness—there is a chasm.
Whatever side one comes down on, the phenomenon whereby a little success renders one superior to any form of honest appraisal or censure is the enemy of growth, and is all too common within Nigerian football. It needs to die, and that right quick.