Born in Nigeria on 16th June, 1989, Odion Jude Ighalo, has become one of the most loved footballers in Africa. His story of starting in slums of Lagos, to currently playing for Manchester United is an inspiration to many. While climbing the ranks in Nigerian academies, Ighalo aspired to play football at the highest level. His dream became reality when he was discovered by Argentine FIFA agent, Marcelo Houseman. And joining the Norwegian club Lyn in 2007 was just the beginning of his European journey.
In 2008, Ighalo signed for Udinese in Italy from where he was loaned out to Spanish side Granada. He was instrumental in their double promotion and is still considered a favorite by many Granada fans. So much so, that the La Liga side named one of the entrances to their new stadium after Ighalo in 2015 (via Pulse.ng). It was after his Spanish stint, that Ighalo got his much awaited break into the Premier League.
Ighalo’s big break
Ighalo signed for Watford in 2014 and had an instant impact with the English side. In his first season, he scored 20 goals in the championship and helped them gain promotion to the Premier League. Ighalo also proved to be instrumental in the club’s survival in the top flight with 15 goals in his first premier league campaign. For his contribution to Watford’s promotion, their fans have a never-ending affection for the Nigerian forward. Till this date, Ighalo is the highest single goal scorer in a single Premier League season for Watford.
The big money move
In 2017, Ighalo earned his big money move when he signed for Chinese club Changchun Yatai. He then moved to CSL giants Shanghai Greenland Shenhua in 2019 and continued his goal scoring prowess. During his 3 years CSL, Ighalo scored an impressive 46 goals in 72 appearances. His performances didn’t go unnoticed as Ighalo notably turned down an offer to join Barcelona in 2018-2019. When asked why he denied the move, he had this to say – “But with due respect I had just finished as the second top scorer in China with 21 goals, I deserve better and didn’t want to be a short-term player somewhere.”
Dream come true
In 2016, amidst speculation about his future, Ighalo had this to say – “I don’t think I will be moving but I’m not sure I’d say no if United called. They were my team growing up”. Four years on, and his impossible dream became reality. When Manchester United came calling for a short term loan as a backup striker, his answer was understandably different. In his first interview with MUTV, Ighalo detailed the night that the transfer went through. “I don’t care how much is the pay-cut, I know that, make it happen”. And when his mother found out about the deal, she cried. “We want players here who want to give everything they’ve got,” said Ole Gunnar Solskjær upon signing Ighalo. No matter what, Ighalo embodies that statement more than anyone else.
“My motto is work hard and pray. Be humble and always ready to learn. And no matter what you have achieved, don’t get carried away and still believe you are learning.” – Odion Jude Ighalo
(via The guardian)
More than a footballer, a gem of a person
Widely known as a religious person, Ighalo pays tribute to his faith after every goal by pointing towards the sky. After scoring his first goal for the reds, Ighalo unveiled his late sister’s picture and dedicated the goal to her. Mary passed away six weeks before her brother signed for the biggest club in the world. In December 2017, he spent a reported 500 million Nigerian naira (around £1m) and opened an orphanage home in Ijegun, 50 km Ajegunle, where he was raised. Even in the troubling times of this pandemic, there are multiple stories about how Ighalo is donating and helping people in need both in Nigeria as well as in England. A man of faith, a loving family man and a genuinely kind human being, Odion Ighalo is an inspiration to each and every one of us.
I started writing this article as just another Ighalo fanboy. Someone who was genuinely happy to see a boyhood fan play for his favorite club. But after looking at various stories about his troubles growing up and how he is as a person; I have the utmost respect for the man. United’s transfer policy has been shambolic over the years. But in the midst of that chaos, we have stumbled upon a gem in Odion Jude Ighalo. Watching him play and score for United has brought back the joy and a sense of unity among the fans. I hope that he is able to continue this journey and extend his stay at the club. And even if that doesn’t happen, if I could say one thing to him, Thank you Odion.