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Why does Victor Osimhen wear a mask on his face? Nigeria and Napoli striker’s protective covering explained

Victor Osimhen’s reputation as one of the most feared and sought-after strikers in world football is only continuing to blossom.

Osimhen spearheaded Napoli’s emotionally charged march to the Serie A title last season when he amassed a phenomenal haul of 26 goals in 32 league games.

Now he can add continental glory to his CV when Nigeria face hosts Ivory Coast in this weekend’s Africa Cup of Nations final. The Super Eagles are bidding to become continental champions for the first time since 2013, when they defeated Burkina Faso 1-0 in the final in South Africa.

Most fans of the teams Osimhen comes up against are familiar with the sight of him wheeling away to celebrate goals, and he has also become known for his wearing a mask in recent years.

Why does Osimhen need the protection for his face? The Sporting News explains.

MORE: Last time Napoli won Serie A: Trophies, scudetto titles in club history

Why does Victor Osimhen wear a mask on his face?

Osimhen suffered multiple facial fractures in a clash of heads with Inter Milan defender Milan Skriniar during a game in November 2021.

The surgeon who oversaw for Osimhen’s subsequent operation detailed needing three plates and six screws to carry out the procedure.

“That injury was like a near-death injury,” Osimhen later told Wazobia FM, via Football Italia, discussing a surgery that forced him out of the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations and is said to have taken three and a half hours. “I am the only one that felt it and I can only speak about how I felt because it was my face and body.

“When the scan came out, I fractured many bones, which they had to remove and fix inside again. I have, like, 18 screws under my jaw. I went through a lot.

“A lot of sleepless nights. I could not sleep, I could not eat with the pain. But at the end of the day, I am a lion — and I know the kind of mentality I have.

“To be able to stand up without using the stretcher and walk out of the pitch on my own — then I knew that it was something I could handle.”

Dr Gianpaolo Tartaro said the damage could have been even more serious. “The orbital bone stopped just in time because Osimhen could even have lost his sight,” he said, speaking to Radio CRC, via Goal.

“That bone could indeed have caused other problems, but fortunately some factors helped us and the eye was able to go back into its socket.

“The plates do not need to be removed unless there is an urgent need; for example, if they develop an infection.

“When we performed the surgery, we used the best-quality plates in the world and had to study very carefully where to place them, so there was protection should the player have to head the ball.”

MORE: Nigeria vs. South Africa score, result, highlights as Super Eagles reach AFCON final after penalty shootout

Following his return to action in January 2022, Osimhen initially wore a mask that covered his whole face.

He now wears a smaller mask that only covers part of his face, and it was reportedly a surprise to his teammates when he continued to wear it ahead of the 2022/23 season.

The mask is now said to serve a reassuring purpose for Osimhen, helping him to deal with psychological trauma from a horror injury that could have derailed his impressive career.

Victor Osimhen career, stats

Born in the Nigerian city of Lagos on December 29, 1998, Osimhen is 1.85m (6ft) tall and weighs 78kg (12st 3lbs).

He joined Napoli from Lille in July 2020 for a club-record €70 million (£61.2m / $73.9m), rising to €80m (£69.9m / $84.m) with add-ons.

After a promising but relatively modest haul of 10 goals in 30 appearances in all competitions during his first season, Osimhen found the net 18 times in 32 games in 2021/22.

His performances earned him Serie A’s Best Young Player award at the end of that campaign, and he continued to add to an already bulging list of accolades during an excellent 2022/23 season, including winning Serie A Player of the Month for February 2023.

He continued his imperious form as Luciano Spelletti’s men emulated the heroics of Diego Maradona and picked up the Scudetto for Napoli.

Osimhen has called Napoli head coach Spalletti “a massive help to me”. “He watches me closely every day and I follow his advice,” he told the club. “He’s helping me become a better footballer in every area. We have a great relationship.”

Unfortunately, that relationship now exists at a distance, with Spalletti having taken charge of the Italy national team. Osimhen has suffered a stop-start season in his absence and Napoli will not retain their title.

He still has eight goals in 18 matches across all competitions for his club in 2023/24 and helped them into a mouth-watering last-16 clash against Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League.

Nevertheless, events Abidjan this weekend will define Osimhen’s season.

MORE: Nigeria next match: Date, time for Super Eagles vs Ivory Coast in AFCON 2023 final

Will Victor Osimhen, Nigeria win AFCON?

Jose Peseiro’s Nigeria have plotted an undefeated path to the final of the Africa Cup of Nations, where they will be favourites to beat the hosts at Alassane Ouattara Stadium.

Osimhen’s only goal in the tournament so far came in Nigeria’s opening 1-1 draw against Equatorial Guinea and they have won every game since, with their star striker an imposing ever-present even if he has lacked some of his usual poise in front of goal.

The 25-year-old has twice been notably frustrated by VAR. In both the quarterfinal win over Angola and semifinal against South Africa he thought he had put the Super Eagles 2-0 up, only for each goal to be called back.

Nigeria held out to beat Angola 1-0 and needed penalties to overcome South Africa. Osimhen has weighed in with three assists over the course of the competition, helping his country to the cusp of their fourth continental crown.

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