Playing in the World Cup is every footballer’s dream. And to see that greats like Ryan Giggs and Eric Cantona never had the opportunity, those who make it to the flagship event cherish the moment.
That may however not be the case for Super Eagles striker, Odion Ighalo, whose debut appearance at the Mundial turned to be a nightmare.
Ighalo’s big miss in Nigeria’s final group game against Argentina at the Russia 2018 World Cup proved quite costly as it resulted in an abrupt end of the country’s dream at the Mundial.
Though Ighalo was remorseful himself and was also disappointed with his performance, that did not appease many Nigerians; some of who went off the mark with threats on Ighalo, his wife and shockingly his children.
This expectedly got to Ighalo who confessed to KweséESPN in an exclusive interview in Sfax, Tunisia that he contemplated quitting the Nigeria national team.
“I know the fans want me to score goals. I understand them,” the China-based striker said. “But some of them took it to another level.
“They said a lot of things. To my innocent kids, to my wife, even to the extent they threatened my life and the life of my family.”
Despite initially trying to grow a thick skin and not respond to critics, Ighalo was indeed deeply hurt by the attacks on his family, especially his children.
He told KweséESPN: “I felt very bad [when they went after my family]. I had to talk to my wife because she could not take it. Some words they said about my kids, about me. Some words they said to her, threatening and all that. That is beyond football.
“You know women and how they react when you talk about their children. But I never said a word to nobody and I never replied anybody.”
He did not have to take any action to protect his family, as they live in England while he plays in China for Changchun Yatai. But with all of that going on, it was only natural that the forward wanted to quit, especially when his wife advised him to.
“My wife said ‘you don’t have to go there [to Nigeria] any more’ and it was because of all what they said to her and to our family.”
It took national team coach Gernot Rohr’s intervention to convince Ighalo not to walk out on the national team and wear the green and white again.
Ighalo explained: “I want to thank Rohr because after the World Cup and all those things happened, he called me before the Seychelles game [in September] and I told him I was contemplating stopping because it is not easy.
“But the coach had belief in me. He said ‘I know you are a good goalscorer and I know you can do it. Come and show them that you can score.’
“If a coach believes in me, then I will come. I told hm ‘coach, if I am in your plans hundred per cent then I will honour the invitation any time you call me.’
“He said ‘yes, you you are in my plans for the games’. Then he said ‘don’t be under pressure, just go do your thing, I know you can do it.’
“That gave me the confidence which I believed that I needed. I want to thank him for defending me, and giving me the words like a father, encouraging me, talking to me. He gave me more belief and I thank God for repaying him with these goals.”
The goals are coming thick and fast for Ighalo now with five goals in two games, that was the same number he had scored in over 20 games.
The fans have also warmed up to Ighalo now and it is expected that this new found love will last for long.