The 2023/24 European football season is upon us and Fenerbaçhe’s Bright Osayi-Samuel is one player who will definitely be keen to make an impression during this new campaign. An assist in Fenerbaçhe’s 4-0 win over Moldovan side Zimbru in the second leg of their Europa Conference League second qualifying round, followed up by another assist in their 5-1 win against Twente, would see him pick up where he left off and from last season and continue his impressive form for the Turkish giants.
Osayi-Samuel started in their 1-0 win at Twente to ensure qualification to their Europa Conference League group stage, where they will face off against Ludogorets, FC Nordsjælland, and FC Spartak Trnava. He retained his spot in the following match, opening the scoring within an hour as Fener beat Ankaragücü 1-0, before playing the full 90 in their 3-2 win against Antalyaspor. After beating İstanbul Başakşehir in the 2022/23 Turkish Cup Final to seal their first trophy in nine years, Fenerbahçe are looking to win their first league title in a decade, and they currently sit atop the table with 12 points from four.
Strong, quick, and athletic, Osayi-Samuel looks like the modern-day full-back/wing-back, but it was not until less than a year ago that the 25-year-old made his first appearance for the Super Eagles on November 17, playing 90 minutes in a pre-tournament friendly against Portugal who, unlike Nigeria, were preparing to play in the World Cup. Nigeria lost 4-0, but Osayi-Samuel was arguably their strongest performer, holding his own on the right flank and even winning a penalty that could have seen them cut the deficit to one goal, only for Emmanuel Dennis to squander the opportunity from the spot.
Playing in a position that has been occupied by the likes of Abdullahi Shehu, Ola Aina, Tyrone Ebuehi, Kevin Akpoguma in international friendlies and competitive games, he seemed to offer something completely different on the ball, something that Nigeria had been lacking for quite a few years. It was little surprise to see him start at right back in each of their next three AFCON qualifiers, a 1-0 loss and a 1-0 win against Guinea-Bissau as well as a 3-2 win at Sierra Leone, and it looks like he will challenge Nottingham Forest’s new signing Ola Aina for the starting position in Jose Peseiro’s defense for next year’s AFCON in the Ivory Coast.
There’s no gainsaying that as a right-back, Osayi-Samuel has got a lot in his arsenal, and these footballing abilities are no surprise to those who had watched and followed his career trajectory from his time at Blackpool and Queens Park Rangers. The Nigeria international started his career as a pure winger who delighted in taking on his markers with his pace, trickery, and guile, little wonder his style of play as a full-back is quite reminiscent of Victor Moses in Antonio Conte’s 2016/17 English Premier League-winning squad.
Born in Okija, Nigeria, Osayi-Samuel moved to Spain at an early age before emigrating to England at 10 years of age. A product of the Blackpool academy, he broke into the first team as a teenager in 2015, playing primarily as a winger across League One, League Two and very briefly in the championship before securing a move to Championship mainstays Queen Park Rangers in September 2017. Osayi-Samuel’s ability to dribble, create and pose a threat to opposition defences was never in doubt but the numbers have hardly been really outstanding in terms of goals and assists for the Fenerbaçhe man.
37 goals and assists in 194 appearances across the lower divisions of English football may have looked more average than world-class but it was his potential that had most likely attracted Fenerbaçhe to him as he switched to the Turkish giants in the second half of the 2020/21 season and it was just a goal and an assist to his name in a total of 19 appearances before the end of that season.
His first full season was also not very remarkable as he was only able to manage two goals and five assists in 43 appearances across all competitions. Though, the arrival of Portuguese manager, Vítor Pereira at Fenerbaçhe in the summer of 2021 occasioned a formation change to a 3-4-3 for the Turkish club with Osayi-Samuel being one of those affected by this tweak as he was made to be the right wing-back in Pereira’s new set-up.
“That’s not usually my position, I’ve been an out-and-out winger. He wanted me to come back as a full-back when we didn’t have the ball. He started teaching me the basics of defending, and from there I started playing as a wing-back,” Osayi-Samuel said in an interview.
The 25-year-old continued being a wing-back/full-back from then on, and following a decent 2022/23 season where he established himself as a key player for Fenerbaçhe, the Nigerian will be hoping for a big 2023/23 season. Analysing full-backs and wing-backs in modern-day football is hardly done without taking a glossary look into the attacking outputs as it is these attacking numbers that have made full-backs like Trent Alexander-Arnold, Reece James, Achraf Hakimi and Andrew Robertson amongst others stand out.
It can be sufficed to say that the role of the attacking full-back in football can hardly be overemphasised. For a player like Bright Osayi-Samuel, the numbers might be quite deceiving. The one assist he registered in 38 appearances across all competitions last season is quite suggestive of a more conservative player but a closer look at the overall statistics may provide more insight into his game, and he has begun the season with one goal and three assists in seven matches so far this season.
According to statistics obtained from the player’s Europa League campaign last season, Osayi-Samuel averaged 83% for progressive carries and an 88% pass completion while also demonstrating his dexterity in 1v1 situations with an 89% success in take-ons. Obviously, the major thing lacking from his game has always been that bit of end product on a more consistent basis and it is something that can definitely improve. We have already seen the Nigerian international double his assist tally from last season in just a few games into the new season.
Defensively, Osayi-Samuel may still be suspect in some areas and that is no surprise at all given that he had played the most part of his formative years as an attacker. The right-back is not usually exceptional when contesting aerial duels which is quite expected from a player of his height (5ft, 11inches), 61% was what he averaged in the Europa League last season while also averaging 59% for interceptions but his tackling is not as bad or so average as he came out strong in 74% of his tackles.
Holistically, Fenerbaçhe have a good player with weaknesses which can definitely be improved upon. More accuracy on his crosses and better decision-making in the final third could change the whole picture for the right-back, and with enough opportunities this season, the 25-year-old might get closer or even reach the peak of his powers, and when that happens, we can boldly attest to being witnesses of the successful rebirth of a wonderkid from the lower tiers of English football into a generational right-back ready to rub shoulders with giants and world-beaters and who has taken massive strides in his development since touching down in Istanbul in January 2021.
There is no doubt that Osayi-Samuel possesses the kind of talent that interests the lovers of the game and earlier this summer, there were rumours linking the Blackpool academy graduate with a move away from Turkey, but instead, he has remained put in Istanbul, and he looks set to play a key role in defense for a Fener side that has enjoyed a strong start to life under İsmail Kartal, who won two league titles as a player and two as an assistant manager with Fener — their two most recent — and who has taken charge of the club for a third time.
After finishing second, eight points behind Galatasaray, Fener have bolstered their squad with the likes of Edin Džeko, Dominik Livaković, Fred, Dušan Tadić, Ryan Kent, Rodrigo Becão, Alexander Dijku, and Cengiz Ünder, and they will be looking to knock Gala off their perch and end a decade-long title drought. Whilst they have signed Turkish right back Mert Müldür in the increasingly likely event that he ships off for AFCON in January, they’ll be counting on Osayi-Samuel, who, with a contract until 2025, could be set for one last magical hurrah for the Yellow Canaries.
By: Moses Adikwu / @Moe_Adikwu
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Anadolu Agency