Super Eagles forward and Chinese Club, Changchun Yatai new signee, Odion Jude Ighalo is one footballer you would love to meet any day. Quite humble and unassuming, the athletic postured man of style who just left the Premier League, Watford FC to a Chinese Club for a 20 million pounds transfer was a host of honour recently when we cornered him for an exclusive interview where he spoke candidly on his football career and relationship with the two biggest rivals in the leather game, Messi and Ronaldo. Ighalo was indeed one of the hottest strikers bailed out the English club side Watford FC out of relegation last season. The leather-game’s sizzling wonder boy who kicked off his footballing career at Nigeria League clubs (Prime and Julius Berger) before moving to Norway in 2007, had a tete-a-tete with Enquirer’s Foreign Bureau Chief, Faith Irabor in France during one of the friendly matches. Coincidentally, just when we were preparing to go to bed for this production, we got the hint of his transfer to the Chinese Club and guess what? The down-to-earth striker obliged us the opportunity of updating the interview even whilst on the last medicals. Below are excerpts of the exclusive interview with the newly registered Changchun Yatai striker.
Congratulations on your new contract, but what were your prospects for Watford FC as one of the key players for the season?
Thanks. I was aspiring to do more. The truth is Watford did very well in the beginning of last season but nobody was seeing it because of the way Leicester City was playing but our target this season was to get a Europa ticket or at least be v among the top ten of the league. We were seventh on the table in the first half of the season but the second half wasn’t really okay. Another thing is, this season is really tough because teams are buying players, and everyone is inspired to fight because of the way Leicester won the league last season.
How did you feel with this new contract?
All ended in praise, I’d wanted to stay in England but no team can meet the asking price.
So, did money play a role in this?
Ahahah…if money had played a role, I would have left 2 seasons ago when they offered triple of what I got now…don’t get me wrong, the money is good too.
Oh you mean this particular Club had made you an offer before?
Nope, Crystal Palace and West Brom but the money was not right for the clubs
Okay, so do you feel disappointed in the coach or the club considering the fact that, you played a key role in the club’s promotion from relegation?
I don’t because every coach has his own player, it was just frustrating not playing much and playing sometimes out of position
And what are your expectations and aspirations especially since China is a new terrain?
Expecting a different game and lifestyle and culture there, expecting the new challenge to be good.
You were the Premier League’s highest goal scorer last season, how did that make you really feel?
Firstly, I want to thank God for a successful season with no injury despite the toughness of the season. I thank God for how everything went, it’s been great and I would say that was hard work and God’s grace. I always believe that when you work hard and believe in yourself, everything will fall in place and am really happy for my last season’s achievements, though I am working hard to achieve similar or more this season. Last season, was my first season in the Premier League and I was able to score 17 goals, I believe it’s not bad and this is why I keep working hard to give more to my team.
Did you see that coming being your first season?,
Truthfully, I didn’t think about that. Actually, my agent and I sat down to analyze how many goals target we were looking at before the start of the season, and he said it won’t be bad if you can score at least 10 goals in the Premiership since it’s my first season so that was my target and surprisingly before December of last season I have gotten more than the expected 10 goals. That’s why I say am thankful to God for the achievement.
Looking back at where you’re coming from, would you say you’re at the level you’ve always wanted or what are your expectations?
Well, the truth is human beings are generally never contented, not even the richest man in the world still wakes up every morning to work for more money. I am grateful to God for where I started and where He has taken me today but I still want to go higher and achieve more especially because I still have age on my side.
Players usually have dream team and its most times Real Madrid or Barcelona considering that they are the two biggest club sides in the world at the moment, what’s yours??
(Laughs) well only God knows. Am a Watford player at the moment with four more years on my contract and am happy there but you never can tell where destiny is taking you. I will accept anywhere destiny takes me to because my dream is to play in the UEFA Champions League, all that being said, am happy where I am at the moment.
Which do you think is the Best League and Best Team in the world because there’s always an unending debate about the Spanish League and Premiership?
For me, I will say Premier League is the Best in the world because I have played in the Spanish League and even the Italian League and now am playing the Premier League. I must say there is a huge difference.
But do you know that a lot of people even Football Icons disagree with that because it’s been the Spanish League dominating the Champions League and Europa back to back?
Yeah, but you don’t judge in that aspect. The thing is the Premier League unlike the Spanish League is not predictable. For example if you look at the winners of the Premiership in the last four season you’d see that they are not the same and again who would have predicted that a Leicester City would win it at the beginning of last season. The Premier League is a competitive league that is watched all over the world.
So, would you say they’re jinxed for not winning the Champions and Europa Leagues?
Well, I don’t know, maybe it’s not just for them though they try to get to the semis or quarter, for me, it’s still the best league in the world having played in both Leagues. The organisation and atmosphere of the Premiership is something else, the way they love football is different. Football is like a Religion in Premiership though I have a lot of respect for the Spanish League.
If not Football what would you have been doing?
Well, I have always wanted to study Law and be a Lawyer but God doesn’t want that for me and that’s why I chose football.
Let’s talk about your first footballing opportunity?
My first opportunity was when I travelled to Norway for trials and I passed the trial in 2007 to be precise. I signed my first professional contract on August 31st 2007 in Oslo before moving to Italy for a year and after then I moved to Spain where I played five years for Granada. Now am in England (Watford FC ) where I just finished my first season. It’s been a great journey and am thankful to God because I still have a lot of years ahead of me and I want to keep working and giving my best.
The fear of every player especially striker is injury, can you recall your most devastating injury experience?
Yeah, injury is something that set your target back and also set you back psychologically. I remember three seasons ago while I was still in the Spanish League (Granada), I had a very serious injury that required surgery on my left knee and also kept me out for close to five months. It wasn’t easy, sometimes I ask myself if I would still be able to play football because I was using crutches and was in pain. The craziest part is that you don’t even know when you will start running, so the thought will just come in my mind and I will be asking myself if I can still play football in my life. But talking to loved ones always give encouragement, they will assure me that I can do it as long as I keep on with my rehabilitation.
You’ve played in Granada which means you must have encountered Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, who would you say is the best between the two and how would you describe them?
Yes, it’s true I have played against Lionel Messi and Ronaldo and for me the two of them are World Best respectively. I like Ronaldo because he worked hard for everything he is today while Messi on the other hand is blessed. He is a genius and the things he does on the field are inhuman. He’s not the same as Ronaldo because you can see the hard work he puts into everything even in training. Messi is just blessed.
Back to the National Team, what’s really happening?
Yeah, I think the Super Eagles are in a rebuilding process with new faces coming in everyday while some are leaving as well so I think we need time to work together as a team. You can’t just bring a team together and expect them to perform like Barcelona, it’s impossible. We need continuity, we need to have our coach stay for at least three years. That way we can see what he’s going to build though I believe we are on the right track. The NFF has done well organising friendlies in 2016 even though we are not playing any tournament at the moment. The essence is for us to understand ourselves and do more. I hope they bring more friendly games when we have international off days so that we can keep blending as a team.
Finally what message do you have for the country and lovers of Football who are presently not happy with the team?
Well, we don’t need to be told that Nigerians are angry with us, we know it’s not easy. I want them to keep believing in the team though I know it’s not easy because they have been disappointed many times, but they shouldn’t stop believing in the team and praying for us.
It was nice chatting with you