Watford striker Odion Ighalo scored 30 goals for the Hornets in 2015 to emerge the top scorer in the English league football but his wife insists the 26-year-old is even a better husband than a scorer, writes ’TANA AIYEJINA
Behind every successful man, there is a woman, so goes a popular saying. Watford striker Odion Ighalo is not an exemption.
Ighalo was the top scorer in English league football in 2015, finishing the calendar year with 30 goals, three goals ahead of Tottenham Hotspurs’ Harry Kane.
The Nigerian helped fire the Hornets into the Premier League in 2015 after an eight-year absence and has continued his fine form in the English top tier, netting 14 times in the 2015/16 campaign to take his total to 30 last year.
His astounding performances has earned him several awards and accolades, the most recent being the inaugural Edo FA awards, where he was named the 2015 Player of The Year (overseas-based) on December 30, 2015 at an elaborate ceremony at the Oba Akenzua Cultural Centre, Benin City, Edo State.
Ighalo couldn’t make the trip from England to Nigeria due to club commitments, but his wife, Sonia, was present at the event to receive the award on his behalf.
Beaming with smiles, Sonia was in ecstatic mood after collecting the award. And she didn’t hide her joy in receiving the award on Ighalo’s behalf.
“It’s a privilege as a wife to receive this award on behalf of my husband and I’m so happy about him winning it. Odion is very happy that he is being appreciated in his home state and he will continue to do his best to project the state in good light,” Sonia, who flew in from London to receive the award, told SUNDAY PUNCH.
Sonia has been a staunch supporter of her husband. During the Super Eagles 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Chad in Kaduna, Sonia was in the stands, watching with keen interest.
The stubborn Chadians had frustrated the Eagles attempts at grabbing the curtain raiser at the Ahmadu Bello Stadium, until erstwhile coach Stephen Keshi brought on Ighalo for Aaron Samuel early in the second half.
Not many people knew the lady with a black gown, but they would soon get to know her. Nineteen minutes into the second half, Ighalo found Gbolahan Salami who fired into the roof for the opening goal.
In the 81st minute, Ighalo earned a penalty for the Eagles, after he was brought down inside the area. The ex-Udinese man seemed to have heard Sonia’s scream from the stands after he was felled and he dusted himself up, picked up the ball and slotted home the penalty for his first international goal.
Sonia screamed again, this time jumping from her seat to celebrate, to the astonishment of the other fans.
“Sometimes it’s not that easy for me watching him play football. For instance in Kaduna, when he won that penalty and wanted to take it, I was nervous but when he took it and scored, I jumped up and celebrated. It’s not that I’m afraid he will get injured but sometimes, it’s not just easy as a wife,” she added.
Ighalo undergoes a ritual before every game. He dedicates each game to God and hopes to come out unscathed even in defeat. Sonia plays her role too before her husband’s games.
“Anytime, before he goes out to play a game, I always pray for him and wish him the very best. It’s been God, He has been so faithful to us and we give Him all the thanks. There’s nothing much that I really do behind but I do encourage him as my husband anytime he’s out there playing.”
Before the game against Liverpool in December, there were questions about Ighalo’s ability to impress against the big sides. After all he had only scored against Sunderland, Norwich City, Newcastke United, West Ham United and the other ‘smaller’ clubs.
But he took the Reds to the sword as his brace and Nathan Ake’s opener helped the Hornets to an emphatic 3-0 win against the visitors. Next for the Hornets were Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Interestingly, Sonia is a staunch supporter of the Blues but her husband grabbed a goal as the faltering English champions held the visitors in a 2-2 draw. And Ighalo proved he could shine against the big boys.
Sonia said about the Chelsea game, “I was happy watching him play at Stamford Bridge because it was a dream come true for him but scoring against Chelsea was amazing, even though it was against the club I support. I was happy he scored against big teams like Chelsea and Liverpool. It’s not easy scoring against these sides because they have some of the best players in the world.
“My aim is for him to score anytime he goes out to play; I don’t mind whether it’s against my club or not. It brings me joy whenever he scores, so I will always support him to score.”
Ighalo acknowledges his wife’s support. Earlier in the season, Ighalo had hailed his wife for his remarkable displays in English football.
“My wife has been very crucial to my impressive career. She has been able to build a good home and she makes me and the children happy. She is everything to me,” the Edo-born footballer told goal.com.
Ighalo’s rise from humble beginnings in Ajegunle, a Lagos ghetto noted for crime and violence, to the topflight leagues of Europe, is amazing. He knew if he had to play at the top level and make a name for himself, he had to maintain a disciplined lifestyle.
Joining bad gangs was a choice he never contemplated; rather he turned to football for help. He wanted to follow in the paths of great stars like Sam Nwobum, Samson Siasia, Emmanuel Amuneke, Jonathan Akpoborie, Ikpe Ekong and others, who were discovered from the ghetto.
His perseverance paid off and Ighalo was scouted from Julius Berger by Lyn Oslo as a 17-year-old, and he left for Norway, a country where temperatures were often 70 degrees colder.
After 10 months, he joined Udinese before being loaned out to their Spanish club, Granada, where he scored the winners in consecutive play-off finals as Granada gained promotion to La Liga.
But he had to stoop to conquer, when he left La Liga, where he rubbed shoulders with the world’s biggest stars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Messi, for the English second tier with Watford. On arrival from Spain, he scored a remarkable 20 goals to help steer The Hornets back to the English Premier League.
But it was while at Udinese that he married Sonia and the fashion designer said it was the footballer’s humility that caught her attention.
“His humility endeared me to him; he is also a devout Christian. He is romantic but importantly, he is a humble guy and he is calm,” she said.
Having watched Ighalo score goals in Serie A, La Liga and the EPL, Sonia says England has provided the right platform for him to excel.
She said, “I prefer him in the EPL. I’m happy with him in the Premiership because he is really showing what he knows how to do and he is playing with the best players in the world. The EPL is a big platform for him just like La Liga or Serie A.”
Back home, fans are yearning to see Ighalo transfer club form to the Super Eagles. The striker has largely struggled to impress in national colours since he made his debut in March 2015, managing just two goals in seven games.
But Sonia said it was just a matter of time before he starts scoring regularly for Nigeria.
“I don’t think there’s any problem. All games are not the same. Sometimes, he’s unfortunate not to play well or score goals but I know he will surely do his best for his country too. He is always looking ahead to every Nigeria game, so that he can make Nigerians proud with his goals.”
Sonia, who describes herself as “a dedicated housewife”, said her husband is a fashion freak, who is in love with shoes
“He loves shoes. I think the most expensive things in his closet are his shoes,” she added.
She disclosed that the first of their two sons is already learning the tricks of the game in England.
“Daniel, who will be six in February, is already training with Watford’s kids’ team,” she added.