Can Victor Osimhen fill Nicolas Pepe’s shoes at Lille?
Background Image: Mickael Genet, CC BY-SA 3.0
Nicolas Pepe has finally completed his blockbuster move to Arsenal from LOSC Lille. Understandably, some Arsenal fans are over the moon.
It has been a while since there was this much buzz and belief among the Arsenal faithful. Arsene Wenger’s departure last season was the end of an era. While happy the Frenchman had finally decided to leave, there was cautious optimism about the future. New manager Unai Emery was not given a huge budget to boost the team with new top-class signings. Therefore, Arsenal’s failure to make the top four at the end of the campaign was not a surprise.
A catastrophic collapse against Chelsea in the Europa League final rubbed salt in the wound. Desperate to avoid a repeat of such, the club has dived front-first into the transfer market with a vengeance. The deal that brought Nicolas Pepe to the Emirates Stadium has shattered Arsenal’s transfer record. And there’s a good reason for that. The French-born Ivorian took Ligue 1 by storm last campaign. With 22 goals and 11 assists, the 24-year-old was second only to Kylian Mbappe in the scoring charts. Unfortunately, Arsenal’s gain threatens to be Lille’s loss.
No team wants to lose its best players. Clubs like Tottenham and Leicester City are fast developing a reputation for making it extremely difficult for opposition teams to sign their top stars. That's done to protect the team from getting ripped apart like the likes of AS Monaco, Shakhtar Donetsk, and Southampton have become accustomed to in recent times. The French and English sides are still suffering the consequences. Starting afresh after the team has got its groove on is not the easiest task in the world for any manager. But Lille was powerless to stop Pepe from making what he considers to be a big step up in his career...
Therefore, the club has done the needful by finding suitable replacements for their star man. Having let centre-forward Rui Fonte leave as well, the issue now is whether the new signings can hit the ground running. The club has acquired three forwards. Virgiliu Postalachi and Timothy Weah from Paris Saint-Germain, while Osimhen was brought in from Belgian side Sporting Charleroi. The Nigerian found the back of the net 20 times in 36 appearances for the club last term.
Lille moved for him expecting that kind of output. The 20-year-old had been on the books of Wolfsburg up until last season. The German side snapped him up after his performance at the 2015 U17 World Cup. Emerging as the top scorer in the competition with 10 goals, much was expected of him as a top striker. His time in Germany was marred by injuries and the club’s poor form. Hence, the choice to send him out on loan.
The Belgian side was satisfied with his performances, enough to buy him outright at the end of the campaign. But when Lille offered more for his services, he was promptly let go. He now comes to France with a gaping hole to fill.
This is definitely his biggest opportunity to announce himself to Europe. Lille is set to play in the Champions League. The team also aims to give Paris Saint-German a run for their money back home. Osimhen will have his hands full. However, he comes prepared for the job. His exploits at the World Cup at such a young age shows he is not afraid of the spotlight. Nevertheless, like the man before him, he will need some time to reach the levels expected...