Nigeria and Watford striker Odion Ighalo has declared that he owes everything he has achieved to the encouragement he got from his mother while trying to find his feet as a young footballers in the dusty fields of the seedy Ajegunle, Lagos.
The deeply religious forward, who has scored 26 goals in 2015, also attributes his success to God 10 of them in the Premier League this season, making him the top scorer across the whole of English football in 2015.
“I thank God for the great year and successful season I’m having but I’m still the same me,” Ighalo told The Guardian.. “It’s just the goals that have changed. My life, my training, my work, is still the same and I just want to keep going and giving my best for Watford.
“After the Championship I did believe I’d score goals in the Premier League – but not the way it is going now because I know the Premier League is more difficult. But I put in a lot of hard work during pre-season and maybe God said it’s my time.”
Ighalo has formed a potent partnership with Troy Deeney.
The pair scored 41 goals between them during the 2014-15 campaign, with Ighalo assisting Deeney on two occasions and the 27-year-old returning the favour three times. This season they have scored 15 goals between them, with five assists for each other – one by Ighalo, four by Deeney – already racked up. In an era where front-twos have become a dying breed, it is a wonderful throwback to see Watford’s so in tune.
“Since last season we have been working every day in training and playing games together, so it’s normal,” Ighalo said of their excellent partnership. “Troy doesn’t watch any more where I am going to run, he just plays the ball into space and knows I will be there. And I don’t watch him, I just pass and I know he’ll be there. We have that connection and it’s working very well.”
Ighalo describes Deeney as a nice guy and praise also follows for Quique Sánchez Flores, who, having become Watford’s fifth manager in a little under two years in June, has done a sensational job of guiding them to seventh in their return to the top flight.
“Quique Sánchez Flores doesn’t talk much but he’s very intelligent,” says Ighalo. “It was not easy when he came and he was telling us to do this and that but now we’re enjoying our football and giving teams problems – that is what he has put in place.
“For every team we play he has a different approach and whether we win, draw or lose he will call us together afterwards and say: ‘Thank you for your effort. You guys are making me proud.’ This is something I have not seen before and as a player it gives you a lot of belief in your manager.”
Ighalo goes on to decsribe a tough childhood in Ajegunle, where the support of his parents – Paul and Martina – saw him and his five siblings through.
“If I talk about everything I went through we will sit here for 10 hours,” he said.
“It was difficult to live, difficult to eat and that is why I thank God when I look where I am now.
“We didn’t always have what we wanted or needed, we had to struggle. That is why I also thank God for my mum – she is the one who worked hard to pay for my first football boots. My dad wanted me to go to school and study, and when I would not do my homework he would spank me. My mum would then quarrel with him and say: ‘You have to leave this boy alone and let him play football.’ So she has always encouraged me.”
Ighalo’s contract with Watford runs until June 2020 but club officials would perhaps be wise to offer him fresh terms quickly, while over at Old Trafford, where the need to bring in a forward grows by the day, they may be interested to hear who the Premier League’s third-highest scorer idolised as a child. “I liked watching Dwight Yorke when he was at Man United. I’m a Man United fan.”
For now, however, the focus is firmly on Watford and helping them record what would be a fourth successive victory on Sunday. Their opponents can be a difficult proposition, especially away from Anfield, but given his form it is no surprise Ighalo is savouring the challenge. “I’ve played against Man City, Arsenal and Man United but playing against Liverpool will be different because I now have the confidence to face any team and give my best,” he says. “I never think about how many goals I have scored but, yes, everything is going well. Thank God for that.”