“That one ought to have gone in,” fans muttered in utter frustration just after few seconds of excitement that their striker was going to score, having beaten through two players only to be denied by the Akwa Ibom shot stopper. It was about 4:20pm on 8th January 2023, the first game in the Nigeria Professional Football League, a thrilling encounter between two-time champions Akwa United and newly promoted side Bendel Insurance. The fans watched with excitement as the match grew tough. The game was still a goalless draw till the 36th minute when a pass from a Bendel Insurance player made it through to one Imade Osarenkhoe who wasted no time to fire it in the back of the net. There was a big roar of celebration in the stands as Bendel Insurance players on the pitch ran towards their number 9 while their Coach, Monday Odigie, clenched his fist in jubilation.
With that fantastic goal, Imade Osarenkhoe put Bendel Insurance in front, becoming the first player to score in the 2023 NPFL abridged season. His goal on the opening day of the season helped newly promoted Bendel Insurance to a shocking 2-0 win over champions Akwa United in Uyo back in January. That was his first introduction to the NPFL. He would go on to announce himself later on with a goal in his next three matches as Bendel Insurance moved to top of the table following a four-match winning run.
Born 23rd September 2000, Imade Osarenkhoe has always had the ambition to become a pro footballer, so he added determination and consistency to his game. He started out as a player for University of Benin sport team, the Uniben Royal. He was one of their best players, scoring winning goals for the team as a prolific striker. It was there that he was spotted by Lucky Idahosa, a former captain of Bendel Insurance and, later, coach of the Uniben Royal, who fished the young talent in training and did not relent in grooming him to be a top striker. To further show his trust in Imade Osarenkhoe knowing how good the lad is, Idahosa brought him to Bendel Insurance. Over time, he became Bendel Insurance’s top 9, propelled by Idahosa’s trust in his ability, and went on to lead the Benin Arsenal in their new season.
One of his most important goals was against eight-time champions Enyimba International at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin City. That goal gave the indication that the team was ready to win and Imade would be their star man.
When Dubai-based United Football Club came calling on Imade Osarenkhoe after a highly successful season for Bendel Insurance FC, they were willing to meet the demands of Bendel Insurance for their prolific striker. Though the amount paid for Osarenkhoe’s services by United FC, a club that plays in the first division in the United Arab Emirates League just below the UAE Pro-League, was not disclosed, some NPFL pundits have said that the player is worth close to $1 million. However, according to transfer market site, United FC’s incoming players were worth around $700,000 in the just-concluded transfer window which Osarenkhoe was part of.
Imade scored 11 goals in all competitions in his last season at Bendel Insurance, coming behind C. Obioma of Enyimba who netted 15 goals to clinch the Eunisell Golden Boot for the highest goal scorer in the NPFL. He delivered the match-winning goal that propelled Insurance to a historic victory over Enugu Rangers, securing their fourth National Cup title and their first since 1980.
The 23-year-old striker shared pictures of him in Dubai United FC training ground ahead of their their last match where they drew 1:1. In his new club, Imade started from the bench. As a new player in the team, he will need time to prove himself to break into the first eleven. In their previous match against Gulf United FC, which they won 4 goals to 3, Thani Bakhit and Ahmad Malalla (both UAE nationals) started upfront for United FC. In the recent transfer, United FC added Marcelo Torres, a forward from Argentina League, to their squad, meaning Imade has lots of players in his position to contend with for a starting spot.
Imade’s style of play can be compared to another African player, Didier Drogba. Some of the qualities needed to be a great striker are pace, good shot, control, strength, positioning and instincts as to where the ball will go and when to make runs. Imade, who is 1.92m tall with a strong right foot, possesses all these and his ball-striking ability is topnotch. He knows how to guide the ball; he is fast and can pose a great threat to defenders.
With Nigeria’s Super Eagles being flooded at the front recently with players like Napoli’s Victor Osimhen, who is one of the best strikers in Europe currently, alongside Victor Boniface of Bayern Leverkusen, who has won four Player of the Month awards back to back this season, Awoniyi who plays for Nottingham Forrest, and Atlanta player Ademola Lookman, it looks like Imade still has a lot to learn and development to do to break into the Super Eagles team, but for a striker of his quality, if he plays well in United FC of Dubai and finds his way to Europe, which looks certain, he will surely have his chances.
What United FC under Coach Johann Louvel, former OGC Nice FC U19 coach who was appointed 15th October 2023, make out of Imade Osarenkhoe will further determine his performance and may expose him to other scouting teams across Europe.
United FC currently sits in 7th position in the UAE Division 1 League, having played seven games with their last game being a 1-1 draw against Al-Taawon. Al Urooba and Al Dhafra sit in the first and second positions, respectively.
Imade’s rise has been attributed to his determination, dedication and consistency – from playing football in the street to joining other local teams, to playing for the University of Benin sport team, from where he was poached to play for the Edo State-owned Bendel Insurance. It is hoped that Imade, aka Black Bullet, who now plays for United FC in Dubai, will few years from now be in Europe, and we will see him play for the Nigerian national team. As he said on his pinned post on X (formerly Twitter), “My dream is too big, it gives me goosebumps anytime I think about it. I want to be a world-class footballer”.