Nigerian striker and English Premier League rave of the moment, Odion Ighalo, is unstoppable! He is scoring consistently at Watford and against the topmost club sides. Ighalo already has a record 14 goals in 19 goals this season and is clearly the danger man for the Club.
However, he is no stranger to top football in Europe, as he has travelled widely in a career that started in the very humble background of Ajegunle in Nigeria. Before moving to Lyn Oslo of Norway, he played in Nigeria for Prime Fc and Julius Berger. He then moved to Italy with Udinese and Granada on loan spells before his Watford Career. In this exclusive Interview with TheCable, Ighalo opens up on his amazing rise from grass to grace and the challenges he has had to overcome.
SUPER EAGLES INVITATION
Yeah, when I was playing back in Italy and in Norway, I was watching the Super Eagles and praying that by God’s grace my turn would come to play for them. So, when the time was getting closer, I was having more experience in playing in bigger leagues and the time came and I said this is my time to take the chance, and give every opportunity to do well and have chance to be invited again for the next game. So, I am here, I want to always give my best.
It was not an easy journey, but God has always been there for me. Maybe because I know that many of us that were playing this game together, they don’t have the opportunity to be where I am today. Some have stopped playing, some are playing abroad but not up to my level while some are more than my level. So, for every situation, I give God the glory. It’s not an easy journey but if I started saying everything on how I started to how I got to this point, we won’t get to finish today. One thing I can tell you is that it has not been an easy journey and I thank God for the journey so far.
HIS FOOTBALL AGENTS
Atta Aneke and Marcelo Houseman, they work together because Marcelo and I met first when he came to Nigeria. We tried working together but when Atta brought a deal from Norway, they did the deal together but that’s how football is. You know that footballers have one agent today, and tomorrow we have another agent. And so, now, Marcelo is not in the picture but Atta is my agent working with the other guy in England and Italy.
Yea, it was a great experience in Norway. In Oslo, I really love the country, the cities; it was nice. Leaving Nigeria to go to Norway was not easy because of the weather; it was so cold. I tried to work hard, I tried to adapt and in my debut game, I scored a brace and it made everything perfect for me. So, I think I signed my contract there on the 31st of August, 2007. Then I think after a week or two, I played my first game and it was great scoring my first goal; the fans loved me there, too. The journey there in Norway was great and I really love the country. It’s a peaceful country, Oslo is nice. The people still love me, some people still send me messages now because the team is now down to the fourth Division.
When I signed for Udinese in 2008, it was not easy because we had lots of competition for space there to play. Then there was Alexis Sanchez, Fabio Quagliarella, Flores, Simeone Pepe. All of them were playing as strikers and it was not easy for me then. So, that’s why I had to go on loan to Granada. So, I went on loan to Granada and I helped the team to gain promotion from the third division to the second division. Then we played the second division and we gained promotion to La Liga. Then I played three seasons in the La Liga before I moved to England. It was great for me to have played in Italy and Spain and now England. It is good for me and my career, and for my profile too. So, I am happy about that.
PERMANENT WATFORD DEAL
When I first got to Watford, I was there on loan from Udinese. After I played few months there, the team wanted me and I said no, because I believed this loan thing must end. I can’t keep going on loan. When they offered me the contract, they said I should sign permanently. I just grabbed it because for me, I wanted to finish the season there and start a new life and new pre-season with them. Not to go back to Italy for pre-season with Udinese and start thinking of going for a loan again or playing in Udinese. So, I just wanted to be focused. I was happy that I signed permanently for them and things just worked out.
QUADRUPLE AGAINST BLACKPOOL
Yea, it was great because that day against Blackpool, we were losing by two goals in the first half. When we got to the dressing room after the first-half break we were thinking, wow, we are losing against Blackpool at home? Nobody knew what was going on because we were playing good that day but we just conceded two cheap goals and all that. So, when we came back in the second half, the first goal I scored was in the 46th minutes, I think in some 30 minutes, we scored seven goals. The goals were just coming and coming, and I scored four goals in that game. I had never scored four goals in my life or career before, so, I was happy. And it was part of the history I made with the club in one game.
It’s great for me as a striker scoring goals for the team. And the fans believe in me. The owner of the club and my team mates know what I can do. So it’s good; I want to keep scoring. I don’t want to stop or relax because I have done what I have done, I will keep working hard, keep doing what I know how to do well, which is scoring for my team.
I will say I am a striker who can use the ball, I have good technique, I have pace and people do say I am strong but for the English football, I am not that strong. But I know that I have good techniques and space. So, it’s difficult for defenders to pin me down because I know that if I have the football on my feet I can do something with it; I can do some damage.
SUPER EAGLES DREAM COME TRUE
When I got my first call up for the Super Eagles, I was happy. I know that it’s a privilege got me to have gotten the call up because there are over 170million Nigerians, I was never afraid or having doubts in my mind of what I could do. I just wanted to come and give my best. And I know that I am going to do it. So, I am happy that I am here today.
FROM AJEGUNLE GHETTO TO ENGLAND
I was born in the ghetto. AJ! Ajegunle! I was born in Ajegunle. Football there was not easy because you had to buy everything you needed to train with, buy water to drink, pay for transport and all that. So, that’s why anytime I’m granting an interview, I always say after God, it’s my mum, because it’s my mom who really stood by me.
I was really happy because many people could not have the opportunity to be where I am today or to make it in life because they didn’t have someone to really stand by them. You know that some parents don’t have the money to eat not to talk of paying for shoes or transport to go for games and all that. So, my mum, with her small shop where she sold sachet water and soft drinks, she’ll save some money to buy shoes for me, give me transport money to go play with my team or play friendly games. She’ll even give me money to buy water after training to drink, try to pay some little little things for me. It was great for me because I didn’t have any helper then. I thank God today that everything that I suffered for then, I am enjoying it now.”