Chelsea and Liverpool have been dealt a serious blow in their efforts to sign Napoli striker Victor Osimhen, who has played down speculation linking him with an exit from the club.

The Italian champions were forced to fend off interest in their leading marksman throughout the summer transfer window after he scored a league-high 26 goals in 32 Serie A games last term.

Osimhen was believed to have been on the wishlists of Manchester United, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain, but Napoli president Aurelio de Laurentiis demanded more than £100m to offload the Nigeria international.

As a result, the interested parties moved onto other targets as Osimhen remained in Naples, where he has opened the 2023-24 campaign with a respectable six goals and one assist from 10 games.

However, the 24-year-old’s long-term future remains far from clear-cut, as he has entered the final two years of his contract with Napoli, who are allegedly struggling to make headway with his agents in talks over a renewal.

Osimhen was also the subject of two inexplicable TikTok videos from Napoli appearing to mock the striker, whose agent briefly threatened legal action against the club before the striker received a private apology.

Osimhen’s turbulent start to the campaign has also seen him engage in a war of words with manager Rudi Garcia after he was taken off in a goalless draw with Bologna last month, and Napoli also had to put out a statement denying claims of a “frosty” relationship between De Laurentiis and the former Lille man.

The Napoli president had suggested that he would be willing to sell Osimhen in 2024 if he refuses to commit to a new deal, which supposedly put both Liverpool and Chelsea – the latter of whom are considered the leading candidates to sign him – on red alert.

However, the 24-year-old expressed his love for Napoli in a recent Twitch interview with Mario Balotelli and Emiliano Viviano, saying: “I am happy at Napoli. People don’t know how difficult it is to play in Serie A. From a tactical and physical point of view, it’s one of the most difficult leagues to play in.”

Clubs in Saudi Arabia have also been linked with the Nigeria international, but he poured cold water on those links by claiming that he would prefer to play in North America, adding: “If I had the same conditions, I would go to MLS.”

In addition to Osimhen’s affirmations, Napoli sporting director Mauro Meluso – as quoted by The Mirror – also ruled out a January exit for the forward, saying: “Absolutely not, the squad is very large and leaves us calm.”

Since arriving from Lille in the summer of 2020, Osimhen has registered 65 goals and 15 assists in 111 matches for the Partenopei, and he is one of 30 nominees for the 2023 Ballon d’Or.

Nevertheless, Chelsea have been tipped to cool their interest in Osimhen due to the 24-year-old’s recent hamstring injury, which is expected to keep him out of action for a few weeks at least.

Instead, the Blues could now prioritise their pursuit of Brentford striker Ivan Toney, who may be on the move in January once his eight-month betting ban comes to an end.

Chelsea may have to fend off interest from Arsenal to secure the England international’s signature, though, and the Bees are expected to demand at least £65m to sanction a mid-season sale.

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