Dream Team V striker Odion Jude Ighalo has revealed why he's ripe enough for the Super Eagles shirt. The intelligent striker who had scored against Barcelona this season can't wait to help his remain in the top league next season.
Undoubtedly, Ighalo posses what it takes to play for the Nigeria senior team after been part of the U-20 and U-23 team. He's fast, intelligent, rugged and handsome but the Udinese player who is on loan to Granada never seems to be carried away with those characteristics but will rather be as calm as always.
After he finally realized one of his long awaited dreams by scoring the crucial goal that landed his club in the Spanish top league three seasons ago. Granada secured promotion from the Segunda Division to the La Liga for the first time since 1976 after they defeated Elche on away goals following a tense two-legged play-off that ended 1-1 on aggregate. Ighalo scored the equalizing goal.
You have enjoyed more playing time this season than your first experience in La Liga. What is the secret?
The secret is determination and focus and I try as much as I can to live up to my coach’s expectation. I give my best at the training sessions and I also convince the team a lot whenever I get a chance, in order for me to get the next shirt. That has been helping me a lot. My first season was scuttled by injuries but I’ve learnt from the mistakes of the series of injury in my first season. I learnt from it and settled well in the league.
Three seasons ago, you led Granada to La Liga with your goal to break a record of many years. How do you recall the memory?
In one respect, it is great to be a hero for life, because I will forever remain in the history of the club. Some years back while I was in Italy, I had a dream of playing in La Liga because of their style but I never knew it was my goal that would result in the fulfilment of the dream. At the beginning, Udinese refused to let me join a top club in Spain. Even when I was not at my peak, they offered me deals but Udinese refused to release me. Now God has ordained it for me to make my dreams alive at last. I’m proud of my success in the team; I’m proud of the team today and I am also proud that I am an African.
Even the Spaniards can never forget that. I am always living by that memory; the fans have been so passionate about my game even before we came to La Liga. I have been enjoying my games with the fans, and doing such a great thing in their history is always grate for me to live better in their hearts. They love me, they always chant my name even when I am on the bench because they know the ability is there to prove myself.
You have also been regarded by some media in Spain as a living hero of Granada. How do you feel being called a hero?
I feel great because it was not by my doing but God that has always helped me in the team. Also, because the team always stood by me whenever I got injured and they always want to see me in the club. I think I have not been carried away by that because I have not done anything yet in my career. The only way to reciprocate such accolade is to keep working hard for the club and the fans. It also boosts my games on the pitch.
You also made the cover magazine of your club. How do you feel?
It was a great privilege and that is why I need to work harder for greater things. Those things are references of quality and it works when success is about to happen. I was excited seeing myself on the cover of the magazine. It also makes me feel great that I am love in the club.
How are you enjoying life in Spain generally?
It’s been great ever since I have been here both on and off the pitch, though sometimes you experience some tough tasks, which I think is normal in footballers’ careers. But apart from that, I have been enjoying my life here. My team-mates help me a lot; the mood is good and it's an environment where we all want to help each other. And my family as well. My family and my closest friends are the biggest part of my life and they help me in the good times and the bad. I am respected as I give back to them. Spain is a great place; any young player can develop faster in terms of the technicality and the facilities. The big teams also encourage younger players from their academy to excel which I think is good for young players. Life has also been so good to me because I have my kids here with me and they are doing well in terms of education and other things, so it’s been great with me here.
You have played against the big clubs in Spain, like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Sevilla and others. Which of the games was the one for you so far?
When you play against teams like Real Madrid and Barcelona, you will always feel privileged to compete with the world’s two best players in the Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. I enjoyed playing all the teams in La Liga because of the free-flowing football they known for, but I think playing and scoring against Barcelona was the interesting one this season. It has been my dream to play against either Barcelona or Real Madrid and claim some points. And it came to pass when we beat Madrid at Bernabeu (Ronaldo scored an own goal). And also we came close to beating Barcelona two weeks after which I scored the first goal, but we didn’t win the game because Barca play like computers and with their inspirational player Messi, they came back to stun us. But it was a great game for me.
You have played against some world-ranked defenders like Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Pique, Carlos Puyol and others. Which one is the toughest among them?
These are players with great personalities and they are very easy to outclass when the battle begins. I fear unknown defenders than established ones because I must have watched your game and applied some techniques just for me to outclass any of them. They are all tough but they are still easy to outclass. I have played with lots of tough defenders not only Madrid or Barcelona players. They are all beatable. My toughest defender is not among the world ranked and he’s a very polished defender.
It seems you have grown better in confidence than before. How did you develop it?
I have always been confident, maybe you want to say maturity. Though both of them work together to build determination. I have been exposed to more games and that has really developed my maturity. I play consistently, I meet tackles and I create chances, so those things always improve your game. That is why playing every time helps players a lot. I will say maturity has really helped me to this extent of my career and it will still help me a lot in the future.
La Liga has exposed you like you said and that has also been generating news that some clubs in England and Italy want you in the summer. How true are these rumours?
I don’t know anything about that; I still have contracts with Udinese and Granada are doing everything to make me happy here, so I don’t need to be listening or concentrating on speculation. I have not heard anything from my club and my agent and it will be very ridiculous commenting on what I have not been told officially. I read about some clubs last season, but today I am speaking with you from Granada, so that is football. You get links every time but I won’t be distracted by that. I will like to respect my contract with my parent club (Udinese).
But don’t you think playing in England could be a big step for you?
Playing in La Liga is already a bigger step because life is suitable for me here. And to be precise, I have not seen any official offer from England and that will make it difficult for me to relate myself with rumours. Most players love to play in England because of the modern day football and it is not all players that suit the Premiership style. I know I have what it takes to play in any team in the country but I am happy here for now.
But many argue that Barclays Premier League is the best in the world -
(Cuts in…) And La Liga produced the world’s best two players. I think that era is gone, La Liga is the best.
Apart from Cristiano Ronaldo, you are also an admirer of Samuel Eto’o and Didier Drogba?
I am a kind of player that learns from experienced players. Eto’o and Drogba have really helped my game because I do learn a lot from their experience and it works for me most of the time. I know I can be better than them if the focus is there for me. I think playing in La liga has really helped me to prove myself against the big teams.
With a few games to the end of the season, Granada are two places from the relegation zone. Do you think they can maintain their momentum to play in La Liga next season?
We are working hard to ensure we are not victims of relegation and that is why we fight to the last minute in every game. We know what it takes to remain in La Liga and I am very confident that we will not go to relegation. At least we need three straight wins to be in a comfortable zone. This is the most crucial time of the season. This is the time the big elephants fall, a lot of surprises occur this time but I am confident we will survive the battle.
The champions of Spain, almighty Barcelona were ‘disgraced’ both home and away in the UEFA Champions League by Bayern Munich. Do you think La Liga is still the best league?
You don’t expect winnings every time. I think they are weak and tired. We have to give it to Barcelona, because this same team has been together for five or more seasons, except some few players. But sometimes world football experiences a big shock like this but that does not mean they are not a good side. I am very sure that they will come back stronger next season. And you have to remember that Messi was not fit enough for both legs and that really affected them; well that is not an excuse for their failure. The best team won but La Liga still remains the best.
Aren’t players in Spain tired of Lionel Messi’s domination over the years?
Messi is a player on his own. You can’t hate him, except you don’t want to grow. He’s a class that is not comparable. You just have to give it to him and let him be. I think he will shine till he retires. Maybe coaches are tired of him but I don’t think players are tired of him in the league.
Let’s talk about the national team. You have played from U-20 to U-23 but you are still far from the national team. Does it bother you?
National team assignment is by chance, and not being there does not mean you should be worried. It is ‘soldier go, soldier come’ but everything is down to the coaches. With all sincerity, I think the coach is working and we must understand that not all of us will be there at the same time. I think the coach also knows where his players are and he knows who to call at a particular time. So, I don’t need to be bothered about that at all, but to keep doing well for my club and rely on the grace of God.
There was a time you were almost named in the Super Eagles qualifiers for the Nations Cup. Were you contacted?
You have said it all, almost is absolutely nothing! If I was contacted, I would have been there to fight for the shirt but I am happy that the team went to win the trophy in South Africa. It was a huge celebration for me and I was proud of my roots. It’s green all over!!!!!
You mean you celebrated Super Eagles victory in South Africa?
Why not? Is it not my country? If I had been there won’t another player do the same? Noooo, I am a passionate Super Eagles fan, whether I’m there or not. After my career in Europe, I am still heading back to the country, so why won’t I celebrate my own? I don’t have any grudges for not being part of Super Eagles for now because I know the future is brighter for me in the team.
Super Eagles are fighting for a 2014 World Cup place and AFCON hero Emmanuel Emenike is injured and will be out of the show. Do you think Nigeria without him?
I watched Emenike play against Barcelona here in Spain in the UEFA Champions League; he’s a wonderful player and his injury is a big blow for the team. But I think Nigeria is blessed with talents across the globe, so it is left for the coach to decide who to replace in him if need be. But they will miss him at some point but also qualify for the World Cup.
You have played under Siasia and Eguavon and it seems Keshi is yet to look your way?
I disagree with you, I have friends in the team, and they always say good things about the coach. Well, I may not fit into his plan for now but that does not mean I am forgotten. I was told there is no big boys level in the national team, everybody is big on his own. And the national team is not a place to showcase levels, but to come and serve our country and every other thing is vanity…