Watfords Odion Ighalo’s Rise To EPL Football Glory (PHOTOS)
Until now, not many Nigerians are familiar with the name “Odion Ighalo.” After his goals lifted Watford from the English Championship to the glamorous premier league, he became the cynosure of all eyes.
At first, football pundits were unsure whether the Nigerian goal poacher can replicate the form that saw Watford qualifying for the EPL. But the blistering form of the striker continues as he netted four goals in as much as four early games of the season. This led to continuous clamour for his inclusion in Coach Sunday Oliseh’s new look Super Eagles.
The big question on some soccer observers is: How did a relatively unknown Ighalo make it this far?
In truth, the 26-year-old footballer journey through Ajegunle, a renowned Lagos slum to Norway as a teenager was more of a fairy tale.
Prior to his coming to Europe, Ighalo used to kick tin cans with his bare feet around the crowded streets of Ajegunle even when running errand for his mother. The industrious mum reportedly worked 17 hours a day selling “pure water” and soft drinks from where the proceed for the striker’s first pair of football boots came from.
On getting to icy Norway, sources said that the first time the young man ever saw snow, he ate it.
When he left Norway, he pitched tent with Spanish club, Granada which recently named one of their stadia entrances after the Nigeria forward for his immense contribution to the club’s progress.
The club said that they found it easy to name him along with three of their stadia entrances after the players for helping them progress to the Spanish La Liga in 2011.
An entrance was decorated with the picture of Ighalo and one other player and was named “Heroes’ Ascent” in the New Stadium Los Carmenes.
Now enjoying the riches of English football, his journey from inner-city hardship in Africa to Watford’s tilt at Premier League survival, is now the yardstick for kids who dream of turning from austerity to prosperity.
Today, Ighalo have just signed a new five-year contract at Vicarage Road.
Hear him: “I come from a ghetto where there was no 24-hour electricity, no good water, bad roads and the neighbourhood is tough,” he said. “We used to kick old cans, plastic bottles, sometimes even an orange, around the streets in bare feet.
“Whatever I go on to achieve in football, I will always give thanks to God for this opportunity to live my dream – but I will also never forget where I came from.
“Ajegunle is where my journey began and I’m proud of that. My first team, Olodi Warriors, used to play on a grass pitch known locally as the ‘Maracana’ but it was really a big, wide-open field.
“On one corner, there were boys selling marijuana and they were always being chased by the police when they cut across the pitch. We would hit the floor when we heard the ‘pop, pop, pop’ of gunfire and then continue training.
“It is part of life, but bullets don’t always differentiate between the footballers and the bad guys.”
Ighalo was scouted by Norway’s Lyn Oslo as a 17-year-old, and the youngest of seven children left Nigeria to seek his fortune in a country where temperatures were often 70 degrees colder.
“There were three players from Nigeria who went to Norway – but one of them had to go home because he could not cope with the cold,” he said. “I could easily have followed him, but when I thought of the hardship I left behind, I was not going to cut and run.
“I had never seen snow before in Nigeria. The first time it snowed in Oslo I was like a child. I was eating it, rubbing it on my head, throwing it in the air like confetti... it was a new toy.”
After 10 months, Ighalo was snared in the web of Watford’s owners, the Italian Pozzo dynasty, joining Udinese before being loaned out to their Spanish club, Granada, where he is revered.
Ighalo scored the winner in consecutive play-off finals as Granada leapt to La Liga.
His happy knack of scoring important goals and winning promotion endured after his move to Vicarage Road 14 months ago.
When Watford, trailing 2-1, were down to 10 men at Derby on Good Friday, Ighalo snaffled a precious equaliser.
Three days later, his rocket against Middlesbrough in another promotion shootout clinched an important 2-0 win and made the Hornets believe they were going up.
Ighalo was off the mark on the opening day of this season in a 2-2 draw at Goodison Park, leaving England’s John Stones on his backside with his signature ‘scoop’ turn.
“I’ve been lucky enough to score some important goals, but my work is not done,” he said.
“One day, when I’ve made good money in football, I would like to go back to Ajegunle and provide better pitches, help the kids at grassroots levels.
“My mum had to work so hard, selling bottled water and soft drinks, to pay for my first pair of adidas Copa Mundial boots, and everything I am today I owe to her and to God.”
Meanwhile, Ighalo has expressed his excitement over his achievements in his career in the last one week.
“A gate in Granada Stadium was name after me, I signed a new five-year contract with Watford FC and scored my second EPL goal,” he wrote recently on Instagram.
“A perfect week for me and who says God doesn’t exist? I vow to give him back all the glory.”
Never ever give up on your dream. It may tarry awhile, you will surely get there with patience, perseverance and hardwork