As Nigeria nears the day of destiny in their quest to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, one of the team’s principal actors Odion Jude Ighalo spent some time with our Chief Football Writer Fisayo Dairo during which he spoke about various topics in his career.
The Changchun Yatai forward was instrumental to Nigeria’s impressive results against African champions Cameroon last month where he scored in Uyo and provided an assist in Yaounde three days later.
Playing for the national team
Ighalo’s appearance in the green and white colours of Nigeria started in 2009 where he captained the Under-20 side to the World Youth Championships in Egypt. His progression continued when he featured for the Under-23s in their unsuccessful attempt to qualify for the 2012 Olympics in London.
“I will say I’m lucky to have played for the different National teams because we have about 170 million Nigerians and much better players than I that can even do more magic in the national team but I’m fortunate to be where I am today in my life, in my career and in the national team,”
“I’m grateful to God for that and I’m not going to relax but keep working and doing my best for club and country.”
After his appearance for the Under-23s in 2011, Ighalo had to wait over three years before making his senior national team debut in a friendly against Uganda in March 2015. Waiting for his time was never a problem for the former Granada striker.
“I don’t give up. I’m a fighter, I like to embrace challenges because some things come to you in life, and if you don’t relax, you’ll lose it. So I always try to work hard and give my best knowing that my time will come,” he submitted.
Ighalo never jokes with his mum whom he describes as her all-in-all. Such is the influence of his mum in his career that he calls her the next to God.
“After God in my life and career is my mum,” he declared.
Such is the intimacy that whereas every player has whichever superstition they believe in, his own ritual is to always call his mum before and after games. Such a good ritual to have.
“Her prayer keeps me going, nothing apart from her prayers. Before a game I’ll call her, she’ll bless me, pray for me and wish me well. After the game I’ll still call her because no matter what happens she’s still my mum and my motivator.”
Adaptation in clubs, nations and regions
28-year old Odion has played in no fewer than five different countries since leaving the Nigerian Premier League in 2007.
He also has a decent goalscoring ratio at each club he has played in. From Udinese in Italy to Granada in Spain, Watford in England and now Changchun Yatai in China where he has a goal in every two games.
Since his national team debut, he has had to switch between different climatic regions within a short period of time, like many of his teammates, when coming to represent their fatherland.
“It’s not easy to adapt to changes in different footballing cultures within a short period of time,” admitted the former Julius Berger star.
“But you know, this is my job and this is what I do. So you have to adapt to every situation and every circumstance you face in life. Like they say, we footballers are like prostitutes. We’re here today, tomorrow we’re in another place. This is our job, this is our life and we have to keep doing it.”
When he made the switch from England to be part of the Chinese revolution in January 2017, many saw it as a big step backwards in his career, motivated just by the millions. He spoke of people telling him that would spell the end of his international career but he was determined to prove them wrong.
“When I went to China, they say oh! You’ve gone to the Chinese League, you’re not going to be invited again. But I said no problems, I’ll keep trying my best and see when time comes I’m going to be here or not because the coach has the final say, not me.
On Zambia game
Ighalo is within 90 minutes of a debut World Cup appearance if Nigeria beat Zambia on Saturday. He is however under no illusions as to what to expect in the game.
“I’m looking forward to having a great game. It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be a difficult game but we have what it takes to win the game. We are battle ready, we’ve been working hard these past few days and come Saturday, victory will be ours by God’s grace,” he concluded.