By Bolaji Okunola
Former Watford of England and Super Eagles’ striker, Odion Ighalo has revealed that the Chinese League turned the fortunes of his career for the better in this interview in Lagos with The Sun Sports on Saturday and also says the year 2017 remains a success for him while expressing his bitter experience in the previous season. He did not forget to air his views on the present Super Eagles, the secret of his rediscovered scoring form and his dream of winning the Golden Boot Award at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. Enjoy the interview.
How will you describe year 2017, especially as it relates to your career?
Year 2017 is my best ever. What can I say about a year that fetched me good fortune? I was tagged a finished striker when I had goal drought in England. But here I am today thanking God for finishing among top five highest goal scorers in the just concluded Chinese Super League. My coach at Changchun Yatai also helped me a lot. The man restored my confidence and I am happy I didn’t let him down. Right now my target is to finish as highest goal scorer in the forthcoming season.
I have no choice than to leave when I did. I realised that Watford fans had lost confidence in me because I was no longer consistent with the club. I scored 15 goals before the end of 2015/2016 season and all of a sudden, my scoring form dropped drastically. Seriously, I don’t know the reason be- hind the drought. I was eager to add to my goals but it was frustration till the end of the season. And when the Chinese offer came, I had no
choice than to accept it. Can you still go back and play in the English Premier League? Why not? Everyone wants to play in the elite league. English Premier League remains the best in the world, no doubt. Football is like barrack. Soldier go, soldier come, barracks remain. If an offer comes from England, I will certainly em- brace it.
I have played there before and the weather and atmosphere won’t be new to me. I know the in and out of English football and I will forever love to play there.
Nigerians nicknamed the Chinese Super League as league for old players. What is your reaction to this?
I have not seen the league from that angle. I see the Chinese Super League as a league for experienced players. Will you say the likes of John Obi Mikel, Asisat Oshoala and host of others are old? I see the league as a league where everyone wants to make money. I often hear such derogatory comments and I do correct them. With time, I see the league competing with top European leagues. We have several key players who dumped Europe to revive their career in China, which I have also done.
How can you describe the present Super Eagles team under Gernot Rohr?
The present squad is the best in recent years. The squad is full of young players who are willing to make names for themselves. According to FIFA, we are one of the youngest teams that qualified for next year’s FIFA World Cup and that alone has spoken about how good we are. When we qualified for the tournament, I gained a lot of applause from my teammates in China and they made me realise we have a squad that can pull surprises in Russia. Rohr has really done Nigeria a favour by convincing other foreign-based players to switch allegiance and play for their fatherland. The coach is a disciplinarian and players under him know what he wants.
How would you rate Nigeria’s group rivals in the forthcoming FIFA World Cup?
We are in a very difficult group. A group that has Argentina, Croatia and Iceland is tough indeed. Iceland is no minor. I watched them play in the Euro 2016. They were nicknamed giant killers. The Croatian is a very technical side. They are as good as any top European team while Argentina will be coming for a revenge of the last defeat they suffered against us in a recent international friendly game. As for me, the group remains the group of death and I hope we survive.
How can Nigeria survive in the group?
Our survival starts with the first match against Croatia. As a matter of fact, the match day clashed with my birthday. I won’t love to welcome anything less than victory. Our first game will determine how far we will go in the tournament. Everyone wants to win and it will be disastrous losing our first game against Croatia. All we need do is to beat Croatia before thinking of facing Iceland and Argentina.
Are you in support of Vincent Enyeama’s recall?
I am not in the right position to determine who stays between the sticks for the Super Eagles in Russia. I will welcome Vincent Enyeama’s recall. We need his experience as the World Cup is meant for the experienced players. I am not saying other goalkeepers are not good, but we still need his experience. If we, the players, look forward to the experience of John Obi Mikel, then I expect the players to look for- ward to the experience of Vin- cent Enyeama too.
What should Nigerians ex- pect from you in particular next year?
I don’t really have much to say about that. All I got to do is to work on my form so that I will be in good shape ahead of the tournament. Every player wants to be at the World Cup and it will be disastrous for me if I fail to make the 23-man final list for the tournament. As I have said earlier, coach Rohr is a disciplinarian and he has made his intention known that they will only consider players based on fitness.