Victor Boniface has made a blistering start to his Bayer Leverkusen career. - © IMAGO/Uwe Kraft
Victor Boniface has made a blistering start to his Bayer Leverkusen career. - © IMAGO/Uwe Kraft

Meet Victor Boniface, Bayer Leverkusen's Nigerian star


Victor Boniface joined Bayer Leverkusen just over a month ago, but it hasn’t taken him long to adapt to life in a new country and a new club. In fact, such has been the quality of his performances, you would be forgiven for thinking he has been at the BayArena for years.

Die Werkself have hit the ground running this campaign, winning each of their first four competitive fixtures and netting 19 goals in total prior to taking on defending champions Bayern Munich on Matchday 4. Boniface has found the back of the net on five occasions himself, also notching one assist, and has caused defences all sorts of problems with his exciting blend of pace, power, technique and eye for goal.

All of this led to a first Nigeria cap on 10 September 2023 and both the August Rookie of the Month and Player of the Month awards just days later. He became only the second player ever - and first since Erling Haaland in January 2020 - to do so, capping a stunning start to life in Leverkusen.

“It has been good”, the 22-year-old humbly told prior to clinching that personal double. “Leverkusen is a top team. Every young player dreams about playing in the top leagues, and the Bundesliga is a top league. Leverkusen is one of the best, so it is good.”

Boniface has been joined by a host of fellow fresh faces at Leverkusen this summer. Bundesliga stalwart and Germany international Jonas Hofmann arrived from Borussia Mönchengladbach, while Alejandro Grimaldo and Nathan Tella flew in from Benfica and Southampton respectively.

Watch: Boniface scores twice as Leverkusen down Gladbach

The most eye-catching transfer, though, was possibly the capture of former Arsenal captain Granit Xhaka, who returned to the German top flight after seven years in London. The 30-year-old has bags of experience at the highest level and has seamlessly slotted into Leverkusen’s midfield.

Centre-forward Boniface was full of praise for the 115-time Switzerland international, and also recognised the role the club’s coaching staff have had in helping the new signings fit in so quickly.

“To have a player like Granit and his experience is really good for us," said Boniface. "You can see that in every game he plays. He has a big influence on the team.

“I think you have to give credit to the coaches. Bringing new players to the team is not easy, and adapting is not easy, but I think they made the right choice in bringing the type of players that suit the way they want to play.”

Boniface (c.) and Granit Xhaka (r.) are just of Leverkusen's new recruits. - IMAGO/RHR-Foto

Leverkusen’s resurgence has been led by head coach Xabi Alonso, who replaced Gerardo Seoane last October. After a difficult start to the 2022/23 campaign – the team were second bottom in the Bundesliga upon the Spaniard’s appointment – they recovered to clinch sixth spot and also reached the UEFA Europa League semi-finals.

While Boniface has not had long to get used to that former Bayern Munich star’s methods, he had nothing but positive things to say about his new boss.

“Xabi is – apart from being a coach – a nice person to work with. I enjoy working with him," said Boniface. “Even before I came to sign, we didn’t speak, but he spoke good about me after the first game. It is good for me”.

Watch: Analysing Xabi Alonso's Bayer Leverkusen

For Boniface, the journey to the Bundesliga has not been a simple one. In his early teens, he moved away from his family home to pursue his football dream, joining an academy in his homeland.

“It was not easy”, he explained. “At the same time, it was not just me, it was different people from different cities in Nigeria, 30 to 40 young players.”

Despite the competition, Boniface stood out, and soon earned a move to local side Real Sapphire. After continuing to impress, Europe and Bodo/Glimt beckoned and, although the weather conditions came as a shock – “it was during January or February, and Norway is very cold then” – he was always confident he could made his mark in Scandinavia.

“I never doubted myself in Norwegian football," said the striker. "I was always 100 percent focused because this is what I wanted to do. I always wanted to play football so I never doubted that in my life.”

That belief was well-founded, as Boniface scored 23 goals in 66 games, winning the league title twice before moving on to Royal Union Saint Gilloise in 2022/23.

The Belgians reached the Europa League quarter-finals in the striker’s solitary campaign, defeating Union Berlin twice along the way, and Boniface’s performance in the second of those two victories – he netted a brace as Saint Gilloise prevailed 3-0 in the second leg of their Round of 16 encounter – was one of many displays that attracted the attention of Leverkusen Sporting Director Simon Rolfes and Co.

Harry Kane’s switch to Bayern has stolen the headlines this summer, but three-time FIFA World Cup finalist Lothar Matthäus was so impressed by Boniface’s initial showings for Leverkusen that he suggested Kane could have a strong challenger for the Bundesliga’s Torjägerkanone - and Boniface has one more goal than his English rival prior to their head-to-head challenge on week four.

The six foot three inch powerhouse, though, is not willing to put a number on the amount of goals he is looking to score this term, saying: “I don’t think about that. I just want to have a good season and try to help the team.”

Watch: Here's why Boniface was named as the Bundesliga Player of the Month for August

He has already made a big impact, helping Leverkusen to into top spot after a perfect start to the campaign, with Bayern the only other side in the league to have won three-from-three but with an inferior goal-difference to Die Werkself. It is still early days, of course, but there is an expectation from some quarters that Alonso’s charges will be involved in a title race this campaign.

So, does Boniface think Leverkusen can clinch the Meisterschale? “Everyone has a different opinion about who is top of the league, but the most important thing is to keep the team doing what we have been doing. Try to win every game and get a good result. For me, that is the important thing”.

Talk of silverware may be a little premature but, with Boniface leading the line, the future looks bright in the black-and-red corner of North-Rhine Westphalia.