If the Super Eagles qualify for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), Odion Ighalo will earn special praise for his hat-trick and brace in two consecutive games against Libya.
After coming under immense criticism over his below-par World Cup performance, the Super Eagles striker is back to his best as the team’s top attacker.
His goals have boosted the chances of Nigeria’s qualification for the continental tournament and he also made history by becoming the first Nigerian striker in the last five years to score three goals in a game.
In this interview, the Changchun Yatai’s striker speaks to TheCable about overcoming the backlash he faced after the World Cup.
How do you feel to have regained your scoring form?
First and foremost, I want to thank God because we were able to achieve our aim. So, I am happy with the team’s performance and I am happy to be scoring goals. You know it’s a good feeling as a striker when you score goals. Sometimes you miss goals opportunity. I am happy most especially that we won the games, and that I am able to contribute to achieving this.
Why did you not respond to how you were criticised after the World Cup?
I am used to criticisms because I have been playing professional football for like 13 to 14 years now and I don’t think this is the first time I have been criticised. If you know me well, I don’t get carried with things. I don’t allow things to weigh me down. I move forward because I believe that anything that happens in life that’s the will of God.
After the World Cup, I got lots of criticisms and backlash to the extent that some football fans went beyond football issues, saying all sorts of things to my wife, kids and family. They even threatened to kill me.
If you went through the social media then, I never responded to any. I didn’t say a word. It was my wife that responded to some because women will always be women. Because I know how things go in football. Some days you have bad luck with your performance and some days things will work out for you.
How did you cope with all the backlash?
I went back to my club and continued my game and I am here today. The same people that were insulting my father, my kids, my generations are the same set of people that have been sending me messages congratulating me. You see that’s how football works. I believe they are fans. Nigerian fans love winning and that’s the only language they know. They love winning and winning. They just want the team to win always. That gave me the understanding of their backlash and criticisms but some of them take it beyond football. As I said, I don’t let that bother me but allow it to make me work more to become better.
Psychologically, how are you able to get over it?
It was really bad you know. I only spoke to my wife not to reply to anybody on social media again. That all those people you talk to and respond to on Instagram just hide behind social media to say things the way they feel because you don’t know them. Some of the words they used then were very painful but I didn’t let it affect my psyche.
So, after the World Cup, I just went with my family on vacation, stayed with my kids to draw strength from them, relax and refresh myself. And I went back to my club and I started scoring again. That’s how football works. It was very difficult especially things people said about my family. If they had insulted me alone, maybe the story would have died down after a day or two but my wife could not hold it when they started insulting her kids. She was just trying to defend her family- the kids, me. It was difficult.
How do you react to being compared to Rashidi Yekini?
He was a good striker. One of the best Nigeria ever had. Well, I don’t know about that. I just play my own way and always want to improve myself. And just be me.