Until most recently, the noise around town was the prompting about making the ritualistic new year’s resolutions, which incidentally was described as ‘cleansing ritual of self-assessment and repentance that demands personal honesty, and ultimately reinforces humility’ by Eric Zorn, the Op-ed editor and blogger for Chicago Tribune.
In that sense, Super Eagles’ striker, Odion Jude Ighalo, is perfectly in order in a frank interview with THE NATION, as he reflected with a benefit of hindsight over Year 2017 to consequently raise for 2018.
Indeed, this past year was significant for Ighalo in many respects. In January, he made the headlines with the shock big money move from English Premier League side Watford F.C to the Chinese Super League side, Changchun Yatai F.C, for a reported fee of £27 million during the Transfer Window. It was a well-stocked year for the 27-year- old as he scored 17 Premier League goals in Watford’s first campaign back in the top flight as well as 15 goals in 27 matches that earned Changchun Yatai F.C a respectable finish on the log at the end of the season. He remarkably scored the opener in the that famous 4-0 mauling of African champions, Cameroun, which consolidated Nigeria’s position towards a place in the forthcoming FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 and rounded off 2017 on a high with the formal opening of his multi-million Ighalo Orphanage Home on December 16, 2017 in Lagos.
“Glory be to God, the year 2017 was very great for me, my family and everybody around me,” Ighalo offered with a cheerful smile inside the lustrous living room of his Lagos home in Lekki.
“It was a successful year for so many reasons; we qualified Nigeria for the Russia 2018 World Cup; I also moved to China where I also did very well with my club. I had a very good holiday towards the end of the year back in Nigeria; it’s been a very great year and I don’t have reasons to complain.
“My expectation for 2018 is to do well with the Super Eagles at the World Cup in Russia. I’m praying to do more than I did during the last season in the Chinese Super League with Changchun Yatai F.C. and I want to be a better person in the service to humanity,” remarked Ighalo , who is fond of saying ‘ we don’t complain but we give thanks.’
Ighalo said he had every reason to be thankful despite his humble beginning from Ajegunle – the urban slum neighbourhood in the heart of Lagos. Today, he is one of the country’s most successful exports but reckoned he would be unhappy without sowing the seed of kindness.
He explained: “It is true that opening an orphanage was another highlight for me in 2017; it was a dream that came through. I had long dreamt about opening an orphanage right from the start of my career and I’m really excited that the dream came true because there is difference between a dream and actualising such dream.
“I want to thank God for this great achievement; it was something I longed for and this will give me joy for the rest of my life. It is one way I want to give back to the society and I’m truly happy about this development.
“I’m privileged because I can afford three square meals in a day but that does not make me the best person on earth and so if I see somebody out there hungry, I want to assist him or her. Life is a function of time and opportunity. I’m not better because I have two heads, rather it’s just by the grace of God who blesses my hard work, and I consider it a privilege, as such I would promptly help anybody hungry for food.
“I’m privileged playing football. I’m not the best player in my position at my club in China and even in the Super Eagles. I consider my present position in life as a successful footballer as privilege because so many other players who I grew up with in Ajegunle were far better than me. I can’t forget my humble start and that’s why I would readily assist anyone in need. Of course, I can’t satisfy everybody but I think if every one of us does our bit Nigeria would be a better place for us to live,” Ighalo, on the eve of his departure to London en route China for the pre-season with Changchun Yatai F.C, spoke exclusively to MORAKINYO ABODUNRIN on other sundry issues. Excerpts….
Future of Ighalo Orphanage Home
The desire to give to people, especially those who are less-privileged is based on my own difficult upbringing because when I look back at my growing up years, I’m compelled to give back to the society and humanity. I still imagine myself in the kind of situation I was while I was growing up some 11 and 12 years ago. I had nothing and I can’t be happy to see people go through some of the things I went through. Thank God I’m doing fine and my family, kids and everybody around me is okay but what about millions out there suffering? I’m not the richest Nigerian or the richest Nigerian footballer but helping people with little things won’t take anything away from me, won’t kill me.This is something I have been doing. I have been doing charity for such a long time now. I have a long list of widows, orphanages and physically-challenged people I’ve been taking care of on a monthly basis but I just took it to another level by building a befitting orphanage. Building this orphanage gives me so much joy and by the grace of God, we would keep growing and growing. Of course, there is the possibility of extending the orphanage beyond Lagos; and I recently went to Benin to meet the Governor of Edo State and I have already told him about my intentions. The Edo State government are looking for a possibility of giving me a parcel of land and I will see what I can do about that in the future. For now, I want to keep this one (Ighalo Orphanage Home in Lagos) running and actively get some good-minded private and corporate people to assist the orphanage. I have used my resources to build the orphanage but I would admit that it’s not an easy thing to do but for the grace of God. I would only allow those who have the same kind of spirit and soft spot for the less fortunate ones to assist them.
Adventure in China
Of course, I was sceptical going to China, but as you know, football has taken me to so many countries. China is the fifth country football has taken me to. I have played in Norway (with Lyn Oslo) Spain (Granada and Cesena), Italy (with Udinese) and England (Watford) and adaptation for me is the same way because I needed to settle down squarely to the business of playing football. It’s always difficult to change environment, change country, change culture, but this is my job, as such I have to just keep doing it. I’m happy that my first season in China wasn’t a bad one despite the initial ups and downs I had with injuries as well as getting adapted to the league. At some point, the goals were not coming but my first season ended well. I’m so happy because I played 27 matches and scored 15 goals and the owners of the club are very happy with me because we had a better outing than the previous season. Personally, I want to do better next season and as a team, we must improve upon what we did last season. This is also the focus of the club’s management and we would see how far we can go next season.
First and foremost, I think being happy is a matter of choice. No matter the circumstances in my life, I choose to be happy and that is something great about me. I’m full of gratitude to God for where I’m today and what I have become. The secret of happiness is to look at the bright side of life and the negatives would always go away. You have my Whatsapp contact and you can see I create a lot of fun and happiness around myself and family and I’m fond of saying that ‘We can only give thanks, we don’t complain’ because I believe better things will come by being grateful for what I have at present. I’m full of positive vibes though as a human being, I go through some difficult moments too. I feel anything that comes my way is the will of God, as such I’m always happy. I love to have fun with my family, friends and everybody around me. Of course, some things can make me sad too, but honestly, I can’t say this particular thing can make me sad. Sometimes, I’m emotionally down but I shake off such moments immediately because I want to be positive always. My family and kids are the soul of my life. I don’t pray anything bad happens to them, but apart from that, I keep my life going by being positive and happy. Yes, it’s true that I rarely speak about my family, especially my wife because she’s on the quiet side. My wife is very shy in front of the camera and she loves her privacy; you can only see her talking much when we are together at home. She is doing her bit taking care of the family, especially the kids when I’m off because of the demands of my job. She has her business too, but despite the fact that we have a nanny at home, it’s difficult sometimes for her to cope without me being around them since they are based in London while I’m in China.
Difficulties as a footballer
Yes, we have difficulties, especially since our job demands we are not always with our family. It’s difficult to let your wife and kids understand that part of the job. Sometimes it’s easy for them to cope but many times, it’s difficult for them to understand. People see the positives, especially the money aspect about the life of a footballer but they don’t see the difficulties; the sacrifices you make in order to have a good family too. It is a tough job but we still have to smile in front of the camera and people think all is rosy because of the money not knowing we sometimes cry too. Life is not easy but we keep thanking God we are getting better and better every day.
The unfortunate Emmanuel Eboue
I feel so sad for Emmanuel Eboue. We are different human beings and everyone has different life style but I pray such things should not happen to me. It’s a difficult position to be. I was discussing with some friends just yesterday about Eboue’s unfortunate circumstances and I told them that it’s difficult to come down to zero level when you had previously tasted life at the top and if you are not mentally strong, you are going to lose your life by committing suicide. It’s better to start from the zero level and move up and you must pray not to come down to that level again; it’s a bad circumstance to be in and I feel the pains Eboue is going through. I have been around three people in such similar circumstances and I had to really come to their aid by speaking to them and giving them things to start life all over again so that they can feel better. Imagine after making such name and wealth, earning as much as seven million Euros and suddenly losing everything, and sleeping with somebody in a couch? My brother, if he’s not mentally strong, he would commit suicide. After reading the first two lines of the interview, I can imagine and understand what he’s going through but I pray he can come out strongly out of this mess.
We have Argentina, Croatia and Iceland in our group and I agree that it’s a difficult group. Some people have even labelled Group D as the ‘group of death’ but we are working hard. We are doing well at present but we can’t afford to get carried away. By the grace of God, we (Super Eagles) are going to come out of the group if we can continue to work hard as we did during the qualifiers and in that friendly match against Argentina. Though it’s going to be difficult, we are going to qualify from the group.
The Gernot Rohr’s magic
There is a great atmosphere around the team now with coach Gernot Rohr and it’s like one big family now. He’s like a father-figure to the team and he ensures there is unity in the team and we all love to work together. Every one of us knows what we want and all of us working hard in the same direction; the coach doesn’t care who you are since you have to come out and do your job, fight for your position and which is very good.
This last holiday during the off season in China is the longest but it was the best and most stressful I have ever had in my whole career since I left the shores of the country to play professional football. While in Europe, it was always about one month off-season break but it’s about two months in China. During the holidays, I went back to Ajegunle in the same neighbourhood I grew up, spending time with some of the old people I grew up with. It was a great feeling for me because as they say, ‘don’t forget your humble beginning’ and I went to the house I grew up in and everybody was happy to see me. That indeed gave me a great feeling because I had the opportunity of talking and mingling with them; we had fun because it was an opportunity to wine and dine with them. I had fun and by the grace of God, I will be going back to that neighbourhood in Ajegunle every year from now. I have been so busy throughout the period and I don’t think I have been at home two days at a stretch without going out to do one thing or the other. I was going from city to city and going back and forth from the country in order to keep up with one appointment or the other. It’s fun but very stressful. Even today, I still have about three important meetings after this interview and that is why I would be out of Nigeria quickly to rest in London before going for the pre-season training.
Things I can’t do without
I can’t do without God, my Bible, my family and football.