Every young footballer, irrespective of their ability, dreams of representing their country. Watford’s Odion Ighalo was no different. And last week Wednesday night he achieved that dream.
The striker started for Nigeria against Uganda. It wasn’t the perfect debut – the Super Eagles were beaten 1-0 and Ighalo was replaced after 85 minutes – but the 25-year-old wouldn’t have taken his place in the side for granted.
“I have played with the juniors, the Under-20s and the Under-23s but I hadn’t played with the senior team,” he explained last week.
“When I was at Granada I did well but I didn’t have the opportunity. So when I got the call-up I was so excited.
“When I was playing [for Watford] and scoring I was thinking maybe they would call me. But I didn’t have my mind on it too much.
“I was just thinking about doing my best for Watford. If the call didn’t come I wouldn’t hold any grudges against anyone.
“Nigeria has a lot good players and not everyone can play. So if you have the opportunity to play you should enjoy it and do your best as you don’t know if you will get a call next time.”
Ighalo has come a long way since leaving Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos, at the age of 18 for Norway. He admits leaving his family was incredibly tough but knew a move to Europe was essential if he was to succeed in professional football.
“I came from a ghetto place,” he admitted. “It was hard there. I didn’t live in the rich part of Lagos but I thank God I went through there.
“You can’t really describe what it is like to train there and that is why I give God all the glory for where I am today.
“I know many people couldn’t make it. There were many players who were better than me but they didn’t have the opportunity to be where I am.
“So when I talk about God some people think I am crazy but I know what God has done in my life.”
He continued: “I remember the night I left Nigeria and travelled out to Norway. My mum was crying but told me that I was going to achieve my dream of playing in Europe, to be one of the players that people would watch on TV.
“She knew it wasn’t going to be easy and she prayed for me. I was happy but any time I started thinking about home I would remember what she said. She is one of the proudest women in the world now for me.”
Family is undoubtedly important for Ighalo. He goes back to Nigeria every summer to visit his parents and hopes they will soon travel to England to watch him represent the Hornets.
Could that be in the Premier League? Possibly. The Golden Boys are second in the Championship and automatic promotion remains a realistic possibility.
Ighalo was the league’s in-form striker prior to his injury, a mantle that his since been taken up by Watford captain Troy Deeney.
Matej Vydra has also rediscovered his goal-scoring touch while Fernando Forestieri has impressed in his last two outings. But Ighalo isn’t worried about competition for places.
“Their form was the best thing that could have happened,” Ighalo said “We have depth here and there are players who can come in and play well.
“If I am injured and the team doesn’t have depth then it can be difficult. The depth is what can push us to the top.”
He added: “We know what we have wanted since the beginning of the season. We have set a goal of promotion. Some games will not go the way we played but we need to keep our heads high.