More than fifteen years after turning a professional, the former Premier League star can look back at his career with a sense of fulfillment
Super Eagles forward Odion Ighalo is pleased with how far football has taken him away from a life of struggle and hardship that beset his childhood.
Born in Lagos, the economic capital of Africa’s most populous nation, Ighalo was raised in the slums of Ajegunle.
Life is not easy for many of the residents of this sprawling ghetto town, as it continues to retain its reputation as one of Lagos’ toughest, most dangerous slums.
Many youngsters from ‘AJ City’, as it is fondly called, see football as a route to a better life.
Most are inspired by the successes of superstars like Taribo West, Brown Ideye, Samson Siasia, Obafemi Martins, Taribo West, and Jonathan Akpoborie, who all started there.
Odion Ighalo’s name can now be added to that brilliant mix.
Ighalo’s rise to stardom
After excelling as a schoolboy at Prime FC, Ighalo impressed at Julius Berger before earning a move to Europe when he joined Lyn Oslo in 2007.
Udinese signed the then 19-year-old forward the following year but mostly sent him out on loan to Granada (twice), Cesena, and Watford.
It was at Vicarage Road that Ighalo found his range as his goals powered the Golden Boys to Premier League promotion.
After three years, 40 goals, 11 assists, and 100 appearances, Ighalo earned a heroic status at Watford.
He departed Europe for Asia, playing for Chinese sides Changchun Yatai and Shanghai Shenhua. But he secured a temporary but stunning move to Manchester United in 2020, fulfilling a childhood dream.
Ighalo moved to Saudi Arabia afterwards, featuring first for Al-Shabab and presently with Al-Hilal.
The 33-year-old recently fired the Asian Galacticos to the Saudi Pro League title, the first league honours of his career.
Reflecting on his journey, Ighalo, the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations top goalscorer, is convinced it could only have been a supreme being in charge of proceedings.
On his official Instagram page, Ighalo affirms: “Some of us matured early Bcos (because) life showed us the worst side of the world at an early age. We see pepper for Ajegunle those years but GOD DID IT.”
Ighalo is one of the Super Eagles’ highest goals of all time, with 16 goals in 37 matches.