While the transfer rumour mill is one that never stops turning, it is safe to assume that, in the same way parturition can be timed by the frequency of contractions, a sudden proliferation of reports can indicate there is movement in the offing.
By all indications, there is a rash of interest in forward Victor Osimhen, and it is not difficult to see why. The 21-year-old has enjoyed a breakthrough season in Ligue 1 with Lille, and his 18 goals in all competitions have brought him to the attention of the wider European audience.
The realities of Lille’s transfer policy mean that bids north of €50m (as are being reported) will almost certainly be countenanced. Les Dogues have done well for themselves picking up undervalued gems and scouting out-of-the-way markets before selling on for significant profits. Osimhen, as their standout talent in 2019/20, would seem set to follow the gilded path.
In an ideal world, it would be best for him to remain with Lille, however. His growth as a forward is remarkably clear, and Ligue 1’s predisposition toward young players allows him the freedom to implement what he takes on board in training in a competitive environment.
For me, the biggest argument for Victor Osimhen to remain exactly where he is: Ligue 1 is offering him a platform to develop, not just through playing time, but by experimentation.
His finishing is becoming more varied, and you can observe him consciously adding new things.
— Solace Chukwu (@TheOddSolace) May 4, 2020
However, the uncomfortable truth is the decision on whether to remain or move on might not be up to him entirely. Instead, he may simply be required to pick the best of the available options if Lille begin to accept bids. In that case, what sort of offer/club should Osimhen prioritize from a sporting perspective (i.e without getting into financial matters)?
If we can accept that he is not the finished article yet, then it is imperative that his next club have some important features to their play and set-up.
The club should be one that creates a lot of Expected Goals (xG) and generates a lot of shots
In order for Osimhen to continue to find himself, it will be necessary to select a club which has a clear attacking identity i.e. creates enough chances that the inevitable misses that come with experimentation would not be considered terminal.
So far this season, Lille have created the third most non-penalty xG in Ligue 1, with 34.4 (that is, based on the quality of chances they have created so far, they should have scored that many goals), and average 12.36 shots per 90.
Looking across Europe’s top five leagues, there are a number of teams that have created a higher non-penalty xG; 28 teams, in fact. So, obviously, that in itself is not enough of an indicator.
The club (and league) should be a competitive step-up from Lille (and Ligue 1)
This is easy enough to accomplish. Going by UEFA coefficients, Ligue 1 is the lowest-ranked of Europe’s top five leagues. The club ranking, however, paints a more descriptive picture: Lille are ranked 117th in Europe. Filtering out the teams ranked lower (as well as the top two in France) only excludes Serie A side Bologna.
However, if we restrict our search to only clubs eligible for Group Stage entry in European competition – for this purpose, we will not be using current league positions – that leaves us with 18 still in the running.
The club should have an obvious need in attack
Osimhen’s trajectory at the moment is very much upward. In order for his development to continue apace, it is imperative he favour a destination that can afford him minutes right away. The idea of fighting for a place and challenging himself is a quixotic one, but really there is more than enough time for him to do that a couple of years down the line.
In this case, the team numbers don’t offer much insight, as all 18 teams left all out-perform their non-penalty xG, albeit to varying degrees. There is no clear under-performance with respect to how the clubs’ attacks put away chances.
However, we can take a look at the strikers on an individual basis, and identify those who are running below their non-penalty xG. For the benefit of this, the consideration will be limited by number of starts – 15 seems like a reasonable enough cut-off point.
That brings us down to a surprisingly manageable number.
A good idea at this point would be to get a sense of precisely how these players are required to interpret the striking roles within their teams. This would give a better sense of just what the requirements on Osimhen would be, and as such whether he would be a reasonable stylistic fit. Note that all stats are per 90 minutes, especially pertinent in the interest of fairness in the face of football’s abrupt halt.
|Attempted dribbles||% of touches in penalty area||Final 3rd pressures||
xA: Expected Assists data via FBref
The numbers support what is clear from watching Osimhen: much of his work is done high up the pitch, and he seldom involves himself in build-up in deeper areas. Nevertheless, even within that seemingly narrow ambit, the 21-year-old is quite the pressing monster, second only to Firmino for pressing actions in the final third per 90.
Considering the numbers, there is a clear name that jumps out as similar in terms of style, and that is Edin Dzeko.
Twenty percent of the Bosnian’s total touches occur inside the penalty area, which is as close as anyone comes to Osimhen’s 22.44 percent. His passing numbers are also close to the Lille striker’s; both players are on the end of moves more often than not, a reality further illustrated by their relatively low xA and through ball numbers.
The biggest point of divergence between the two players is in their pressing, which is somewhat explained by the fact that Dzeko is now 34. Perhaps not as notable, but worth mentioning, is that Dzeko dribbles a lot more than Osimhen.
Another close stylistic approximation is Gonzalo Higuain. However, the Argentine is a lot more active in terms of playing key passes and working outside of the penalty area (perhaps due to the presence of Cristiano Ronaldo). There is also a concern with the stolid nature of Juventus’ attacking play, as well as the fact the Old Lady are only fourth for xG in Serie A.
Well, what about the others?
The idea of replacing Volland at Bayer Leverkusen is an interesting one, and the numbers indicate it would not be too much of a stretch. Peter Bosz is crazy, but in a good way, and his sides are thrillingly gung-ho in their attacking play and pressing. That said, his style does possess an innate volatility, and while Osimhen would get plenty of chances to fill his boots, things could just as easily go as badly as they could go well (see: Bosz’s time at Borussia Dortmund).
Marcus Thuram and Alassane Plea are part of a Monchengladbach side that relies to a great degree on their ability to pick up the ball in deeper areas and carry it forward, and also Joaquin Correa’s game is heavily based on dribbling into dangerous areas.
Is it then as simple as saying Osimhen should go to Roma to replace the aged Dzeko? Hardly. There is nothing to indicate that, if thrust into a higher-profile club with more established strikers, he would not be able to battle his way to game time. His name has increasingly been linked with Chelsea, for instance; that would mean a battle with Tammy Abraham which, while eminently winnable, could also go against him and would entail less patience than he is used to.
Is it doable though? Absolutely. So this piece does not purport to be definitive on what will and won’t work, and the data is just one prism through which the situation can be assessed and a decision made.