Gift Emmanuel Orban is a Nigerian striker who joined Olympique Lyonnais from Belgian club Gent for a fee of €12 million in the January transfer window of 2024. He made his Lyon debut later that month in a 3-2 defeat at home to Rennes. He came off the bench at half-time to replace Mahamadou Diawara with Lyon trailing 3-0 and helped his new team claw their way back into the game in the second half.
That performance earned Orban his first start in the following match, which was the ‘Olympico’ clash against Marseille at the Groupama Stadium. Playing on the left side of attack, he put in a good shift and caused the visitors a few problems before he was replaced by Malick Fofana with twenty minutes left to play, having helped set Lyon on the way to a hard-fought 1-0 win.
Gift Orban didn’t have to wait much longer to open his scoring account for ‘Les Gones’. He was handed another start three days later in a crucial Coupe de France Round of 16 tie against Lille, leading the line in place of Alexandre Lacazette, who was being rested. His big moment came in the 40th minute when he latched onto a through ball from Rayan Cherki to finish off a slick passing move with a cool dink over the out-coming goalkeeper. He proved to be a handful for the Lille defence until he was replaced by Lacazette mid-way through the second half of the 2-1 win and he looks like a very useful addition to Lyon’s roster of attacking options.
Scouted by Stabæk
Born in Benue State, in the eastern central region of Nigeria, Gift Orban was playing for Bison FC when he was spotted by representatives of Norwegian club Stabæk whilst playing in an amateur tournament. Aged nineteen, he was invited to spend the winter training with Stabæk, but he returned to his homeland upon the expiry of his visa. However, he had impressed enough people to convince them to make a formal move for him a few months later, in Spring 2022.
Orban was initially thrown into the club’s reserves, competing in the fourth tier of Norwegian football, but it was immediately apparent that he was too good for that level. They moved him up to the first team squad at the end of May and he hit the ground running. He scored or assisted in almost every game between then and the end of the season, finishing with 19 goals and seven assists in 24 games across all competitions. Despite having missed the first third of the season, he was joint top scorer in the OBOS-ligaen (Norway’s second division) and won the Young Player of the Year award. Stabæk finished second in the table and won promotion back to the top flight, thanks largely to Orban’s performances.
A Gift for Gent
Such was his impact in Norway that bigger clubs from around Europe started to take notice and Gent took the plunge in January 2023, shelling out €4.6 million for his services. Unfazed by the step up in standard, Gift Orban wasted no time in finding his feet at his new club. He scored a brace in his Jupiler Pro League debut at Westerlo (a 3-3 draw) and plundered fifteen goals in sixteen appearances during that second half of the season and play-offs, via which Gent qualified for the Europa Conference League.
However, it was his exploits in the 2022-23 Europa Conference League knock-out phase that made headlines around Europe. Three minutes after coming on against Qarabag in the Intermediate Stage 2nd Leg, he scored a goal to level the tie and then scored in the penalty shoot-out that saw Gent progress to the last 16. There they faced Basaksehir and, after a 1-1 draw at home, he went to Istanbul and scored the fastest ever hat-trick in UEFA club competitions, breaking Mo Salah’s record. His goals in the 31st, 32nd and 34th minutes were only three minutes and twenty-five seconds apart and set Gent on their way to a 4-1 win. Sadly they were knocked out by West Ham in the Quarter-Finals.
Moving on up
Orban wasn’t quite as prolific in the first half of the 2023-24 campaign with Gent. His rapidly burgeoning reputation meant that he was now a marked man and he only managed three goals in the Jupiler Pro League prior to his January move to Lyon. In mitigation, his numbers were adversely affected by the lack of playing time he was afforded in the league – he only started nine of Gent’s first twenty games as coach Hein Vanhaezebrouck rotated his squad to cope with the dual demands of domestic and European football.
On the European scene, Orban was consistently in the starting line-up and he scored a hat-trick against Pogon Szczecin in the Europa Conference League qualifiers and another triple against Breidablik in the group phase. His five goals helped Gent to second place in Group B made him joint top scorer in the 2023-24 Conference League group stage. These exploits contributed to his transfer value quadrupling in the space of twelve months at Gent, and Lyon moved to secure his signature amidst interest from a host of big clubs around Europe.