Victor Osimhen’s rise to the peak in Serie A has been nothing short of spectacular.
The Nigerian striker joined Napoli from French club Lille in 2020 for a record-breaking fee of €70 million, becoming the most expensive African footballer ever.
Since then, he has become a favourite in Naples, scoring goals and leading the team’s attack with his pace, power, and skill.
However, Osimhen’s impact at Napoli goes beyond his on-field performance.
The striker has captured the hearts of Napoli fans with his work ethic, humility, and positive attitude, and the fans have responded by showing him their love and admiration in various ways.
The face-painting controversy
There have been one or two bumps along the way, though.
One recent controversial issue involving Napoli fans and Osimhen is the trend of kids in Naples painting their faces and hair to look like the striker during a popular carnival.
Some persons, including Nigerian-born Neapolitan writer Sabrina Efionayi, have accused this trend of being racist, citing Italy’s long-drawn battle with racism targeted at black players.
Efionayi wrote on Facebook (as per Daily Mail): ‘Every time a player with black skin excels in a team (in this case, Napoli), I always feel this tremendous angst over how people think he should be celebrated.
‘From [Gino] Sorbillo painting his face black to show solidarity with Koulibaly, to the children you painted brown in “honour” of Osimhen for Carnival.
‘Trust me; it is not celebrating him at all. It gives me goosebumps if you think it is showing solidarity, being amusing or supportive of the Nigerian player.’
Sabrina Efionayi’s concerns are genuine.
Especially when placed within the context of the origins of painting a blackface in Western climes and its harmful implications on black people in Europe and America.
In the not-too-distant past, painting blackface was a popular tool deployed to undermine and perpetuate racism against the coloured community.
Coupling that with some Italian fans’ well-documented attack against players of colour unveils where Efionayi’s worries stem from.
Naples’ uncommon love for Osimhen
However, it is important to draw a contrast and emphasize that the Naples kids’ painted faces show love and admiration for Osimhen and are not racist.
Italian national team coach Roberto Mancini recently reacted to the issue, writing on Instagram: “Where some see racism, I see only wonder. Sport is inclusion and you kids are giants!”
This sentiment is shared by many Napoli fans, who see Osimhen as a hero and a role model for kids and young footballers in the city.
The kids painting their faces and hair like him shows their deep affection for him and their desire to celebrate his success and style.
Moreover, fans’ display of love for Osimhen has become a common, open, and acceptable way of life in Naples.
They have been displaying their heartfelt admiration for Osimhen in several ways, such as displaying banners and singing his name during games, posting about him on social media, buying his merchandise, creating murals and street art dedicated to him, and supporting him through injuries.
It is clear that the Napoli fans’ love for Osimhen is genuine and heartfelt, and it is not limited to his on-field performance.
More will come, and many had better start getting used to it.
The greatest show of appreciation from the fans will arrive when Osimhen leads Napoli to their first Serie A title in 33 years. This feat seems increasingly likely as the team continues to perform well under manager Luciano Spalletti.
They will likely raise him as a god, higher than all but the legendary Diego Maradona. Osimhen will have shrines erected for him on street corners. Some will even pray in his name.
And as long as he continues to wear the blue shirt of Napoli, he will be loved, revered, and even worshipped by the fans, young and old alike.
Even more importantly, Osimhen’s deep connection with his admirers, especially the adorable face-painting kids, could even encourage Black individuals to begin reclaiming blackface as a positive symbol instead of a negative one.
And at that moment, the power of football, the power of heroes, and the power of love will truly be made manifest.