As a young boy growing up in Nigeria, Odion Ighalo had to save up his lunch money in order to watch his beloved Manchester United on TV at the weekend.
Now 30, he is a United player, having signed for his boyhood club on loan until the end of the season from Chinese side Shanghai Shenhua in January.
Since then, Ighalo has scored three goals in eight appearances for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, and enjoyed his first Manchester derby victory on Sunday.
In a wide-ranging interview with the BBC, he discusses growing up as a united fan, the panic to make his move from China possible and the impact team-mate Bruno Fernandes can have.
When I was growing up, I knew a lot about football because I saw some of my grown-up siblings watching football on TV and they supported Manchester United.
Sometimes you would listen to commentary on the radio. Sometimes you would go out to watch at the viewing centre because some of us didn’t have the opportunity to subscribe or pay to watch.
During the week, you had to save every day from Monday to Friday to be able to do that, so I’m happy I did that because my life was all about football. I played football and I watched my team and it was one of those things I cherished every weekend.
You’d get ready, wash your jersey and go out and support your darling team. You had to save for it because without, you can’t watch.
Sometimes you would just go there and see, if you were lucky, if someone would pay for you or sneak you in, but sometimes it wasn’t possible. Sometimes you would just hear if they scored – when they shouted “goal” when Man Utd scored – and you would wait outside until the game finished, you got the result of the game and then you would go home happy.
To be the first Nigerian to play for Manchester United is a great achievement for me which I am going to cherish for the rest of my life because it’s not easy to dream something and it comes true. It’s a great feeling.
I never believed it was going to happen because the time difference from China to the UK is crazy and with the coronavirus that is going on in China.
But dreams do come true. I prayed about it and it happened. When my agent told me about it I was hoping and longing, but I was having doubts in my mind because I was in China. How was I going to fly to the UK? Am I going to beat this coronavirus to get in and united have another striker they are looking at?
I was happy my name was being mentioned but I did not put my mind on it 100% because I thought it was not going to happen because of the situation in China.
When my agent called me and told me Manchester United wanted to do this deal I said “are you serious?” and “how am I going to speak to the director because he doesn’t speak English?”.
I had to go to the translator and bang on his door. He had to go to the director to talk. I was talking to the translator and he was translating to the director, there were three-way calls with my agent and Man Utd were talking too. I didn’t get to sleep until 6am.
It still feels like a dream sometimes. But I don’t want to get carried away with too much emotion so that I am able to concentrate on training well and playing well. I know I am playing for the biggest club in the world.
Before the game, we knew it was going to be tough because we were playing against a good side, but we are United. We are capable of beating any team if we play to our standard and play very well, which we did.
You could see everyone was buzzing from the first minute. Everybody from the first minute to the last minute gave everything they had, even those who came on from the bench.
This form can be sustainable because it’s hard work, belief and determination. The group are together working towards one goal.
I’m not saying we’re not going to lose games – sometimes we will. But we are sticking together, fighting together, and our belief is there. I think we have what it takes to do even better than we are doing now.
Ighalo and Bruno Fernandes both signed for United on transfer deadline day in January
It’s not my first time playing with Bruno. I played with him at Udinese back in 2010.
He’s a great player. He has vision. He’s the guy who wants the ball because he can do something fantastic with it if you give him space. He’s a good passer of the ball and he’s what this team needs to score goals.
You’re still going to see more and better from him because he is still getting used to the Premier League. When he’s finally settled Bruno Fernandes is going to do well in this team.
Before I came here I knew Manchester United were looking at him and I was hoping they would get him because he is a good player and I knew he was going to change the dynamic of the team.
He’s not going to have the best game every time but what he is going to bring to the team is going to be unbelievable.
Infantino Reveals How Nigeria Can Host FIFA Competitions
FIFA President, Gianni Infantino last Thursday, in Abuja, revealed how Nigeria can be made a destination for top Grade A football matches and FIFA competitions.
Infantino gave the insight when the Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare took him on a tour of the renovated main bowl of the MoshoodAbiola National Stadium.
The FIFA boss, who was visibly happy with the re-grassed pitch at the stadium, said well-maintained stadia with good pitches were key to hosting grade A matches.
He said FIFA was ready to work more closely with Nigeria to develop the game and host more grade A matches in the country.
“We (FIFA) have to make sure when a country, when a government with the President, the minister and private persons are investing in football, in stadia, we work with them to give something back.
“It’s obvious that stadiums like this (MoshoodAbiola stadium) and others in Nigeria deserve the best quality games.
“They deserve top national team games, top club games and it’s not just about Nigerian football or African football, it’s about global football.
“We are working together to see what kind of new opportunities, competitions we can bring for men and women to fill this stadium and make the heart of the stadium beat for the fantastic spectacle that all of the Nigerian love, which is football,” he said.
Earlier, the minister said the Federal Government will continue to invest in sports development and facilities.
Tidesports source reports that the FIFA President, in the company of the minister, had earlier visited President Muhammadu Buhari at the Statehouse, as part of his engagement.
Why NFF Must Offset Rohr’s Salaries, Bonuses – Aikhomogbe
Former Nigerian goal keeper, Andrew Aikhomogbe has called on the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) to resolve every outstanding salaries and bonuses owed to the Super Eagles coach, Gernot Rohr before the next World Cup qualifiers against Central Africa Republic (CAR).
Aikhomogbe made this known on the backdrop of the football body’s recent deal with Baba Ijebu.
Although the financial details of the deal was not disclosed, Aikhomogbe in an interview with Newsmen from his base in Cairo, Egypt, stated that the NFF should use this platform to offset Rohr’s salaries and bonuses.
“It’s a big delight to know that the Nigeria Football Federation have signed a deal with Baba Ijebu and this will serve as an opportunity for them to use part of the money to pay Rohr’s salaries and bonuses.
“There is no better time to motivate him than now before Nigeria’s next 2022 World Cup qualifiers against the Central Africa Republic (CAR) on October,” he said.
Enyimba Players Vow To Support Finidi
Enyimba FC Goalkeeper, John Noble has stated that the players of the People’s Elephants will be key to the success of the newly appointed coach of the team, Finidi George.
Finidi, signed a two-year deal with Enyimba and oversaw his first full training session with the team on Thursday after a cameo appearance on Wednesday.
Speaking in a chat with Tidesports source, Noble gave his assessment of the coach in his first session under the manager and believes the former Super Eagles winger has what it takes to lead the team to the next level.
He added that the Enyimba players will be the ones to hand Finidi George his success at the club.
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