Super Eagles striker Odion Ighalo speaks to completesportsnigeria.com's JOHNNY EDWARD about life with Watford and how Nigeria intend to see off Egypt's challenge to qualify for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations…
You had a splendid debut season with Watford in the Championship last season in England, after a shaky start. Did you envisage this feat?
Every player dreams big and I’m not an exception to that. I had to adapt first to the physicality of English football and the pace of the game, to perform well. Scoring goals is very important for a striker and I’m glad that I helped my team gain promotion to the EPL which is one of the best moments of my career. I’m grateful to God for what I achieved and I pray to continue scoring more goals for my team.
But how did you feel losing out on the Championship title to Bournemouth?
I felt very bad because we had every opportunity to wrap up the title but we drew at home which cost us. I was moody after the game but the target for the team was to gain promotion and we got it so in a way it was a bit of a relief. 20 goals is good.
The excitement of playing in the English Premiership is one feeling most players dream of, how prepared mentally are you to face the big teams in the EPL?
It’s not going to be easy but I’m prepared though I know I have to put in more effort to replicate the form I showed in the Championship. Going beyond my limit is what I’m prepared to do, to make a mark for myself in the EPL. It’s the third time I’m helping my teams gain promotion to the elite division and I feel very delighted with what I have achieved with Granada twice and now with Watford. My best season is yet to come with Watford.
Watford will face Everton in the league opener in August. How excited are you that your dreams of playing in the EPL are coming true?
Knowing I will be part of this with Watford makes me want the start of the season in earnest but I'm not under any form of pressure. I will be focused and be ready to give my best every week ,for the fans who have appreciated me from the first day I arrived at the club.
I have a chance to play a big part in this with the Watford players and the fans. This is the most important moment for me now, to prepare and be ready for an amazing challenge in my career.
…And the expectations from the fans?
That’s so massive and unimaginable because of the fees the players command. You could see the fee Sky Sports paid for the rights of the EPL, over £5billion so players must measure up.
You will be playing under a new coach Quique Sanchez Flores after Slavisa Jokanovic refused to renew his contract. What do you think Flores can add to the team?
A lot, he is a professional and his record is amazing. I can’t wait to join up for pre-season and do my best.
Your form has not gone unnoticed by teams hoping to strengthen their teams for the coming season. Will you stay with the Hornets for the new EPL season?
For now I remain a Watford player, as I have two years left on my current deal. I can’t deny the fact that there are concrete offers for me in England, from France Turkey, Italy and Spain but presently my representatives are discussing a new improved deal with my team because we are now in the premiership and the terms are different but you never tell, anything can happen, I could move if an agreement isn’t reached.
How disappointed were you missing out on the club player of the year award despite your 20 goals?
I wasn’t disappointed because the player who won the award, Troy Deeney, had scored 20 for the club in three consecutive seasons and he is the captain of the team. Deeney is my strike partner and a good friend, so I was happy for him when he got the award.
Are you setting any goal targets for yourself in the EPL?
No my brother, I will just give my best to surpass my feat in the Championship.
You spent years in Norway, Italy and Spain. Could you tell us how you spend your leisure time aside from football with the women, booze and party life?
I don’t drink and I don’t hang out with women as I’m married. I relax with my family when I’m not on the football pitch and also I try as much as I can to educate myself more via the internet and sleep. The life in England is incomparable to what we have in other parts of Europe.
Talking about the senior national team, you scored your first goal in your third appearance for the Super Eagles against Chad coming off the bench. Were you under any pressure to score when you were introduced?
Not at all. I just felt the pitch didn’t bring the best out of the team because we moved the ball quickly and were more desperate to score. I was studying the game and knew which channel to run through to break the Chadians who were out to spoil our day. I was happy I came on to change the game but it was a team effort and Gbolahan Salami’s goal was classy.
How has that goal boosted your confidence?
That goal has given me much more courage that I can score more goals if I keep pushing on. I’m really happy because as a striker I always want to score. Even at the club side, when you get your first goal, it will boost your morale.
I can remember last season, I played like eight or nine games without scoring so when I finally got my first goal, I just kept on having the confidence and the confidence kept on building up and till the season ended, I kept on scoring. Now I have my first goal, so what I’m thinking is when my second goal will come, so I just have to work hard with the team and make sure I score more goals as a striker.
Nigeria trail Egypt on goal difference in their AFCON group, how optimistic are you of the Eagles qualifying for the 2017 AFCON in Gabon?
We should not bother ourselves about the goal difference. We will qualify for the Nations Cup. We have started well and I’m certain that we will not make the mistake of not qualifying for the Nations Cup again. We just have to take each game as it comes. We face Tanzania in Dar Es Salaam in September, we hope to win as well and keep building on our momentum.