The Story of Odion Ighalo’s Football Career

Odion Ighalo's football career
Written by Robin Okwanma

An inspiring story of  ‘ghetto to glory’. Odion Ighalo’s football career is one of several testimonies to the power of vision, and never giving up. Do not allow either your circumstances at birth or your present environment to limit you. Learn this and learn it well from Odion Ighalo. 

Odion Ighalo: His Origins and Birth

Odion Ighalo currently plays as a striker for the Saudi football team, Al Hilal, as well as Nigeria’s Super Eagles.  Here is the story of his rugged beginnings, and how he fought and worked his way out of the low life. 

Odion Jude Ighalo, an indigene of Edo state, was born in the slums of Ajegunle in Lagos, southwest Nigeria in June 1989. He is one of three siblings. And his parents were poor – his mother was a petty trader, and his father had no clear job. Nevertheless, they individually worked hard to help him, though in opposing directions. 

Odion’s keen interest in football was never hidden – and his mother eagerly supported him. He would leave school to go and practice on the neighborhood football field. Odion’s father would rather save whatever he could make towards his schooling. This of course caused disagreements between the couple, and Odion’s father would not support his football career. 

His father, Paul, had good reason to insist that his son should attend school, and do so safely. The Macarena football field where Odion and his teammates played amateur football, was also a trading spot for hard drug dealers. The narcotics sellers would lurk in one corner of the field to sell their forbidden wares. And police officers regularly hunted them down, with a shower of bullets flying in several directions. It was clearly not safe. 

Odion’s father would beat and scold his son to stay away from the football field. But his mother believed so much in her son’s dream to defend him, and even save towards buying his sports gear. The aspiring soccer star would go hungry and even sleep on the fields at certain times. And along the line, for Odion Ighalo’s football career to continue, he had to drop out of school. This further unleashed his father’s fury – he was practically banished out of his father’s presence.

Odion Ighalo’s Football Career: The Beginnings

Odion worked his way into a football career by joining the local league club, Prime FC (now Osun United FC) between 2000 and 2005. Then he joined Julius Berger FC (now Bridge football club) between 2006 and 2007. While still at Julius Berger, FIFA agent Marcelo Houseman discovered him and was impressed. Houseman drew the attention of Norwegian-Nigerian agent, Atta Aneke, to Odion. 

It was Aneke who eventually recommended Odion on trial to Norway’s Lyn 1896 Fotbaliklubb – for which he played between 2007 and 2008. Odion scored a total of 9 goals for the club within the period and quickly drew the attention of many foreign football clubs. And by July 2008, he signed a 5-year contract with Italy’s Udinese. However, Odion only made 6 appearances at Udinese for Serie A matches and scored only one goal  – not a very good exposure. But fortune would indirectly smile at him – he was loaned out to other clubs. And then his skills were revealed in a short while. 

Between 2009 and 2014, Odion was loaned out by Udinese to the following clubs:

– To Granada (2009 to 2010: where he scored 16 league goals in 26 matches) 

– To Cesena (2010 to 2011: where he scored no goal in 3 matches), 

– Back to Granada (2011 to 2014: where he scored yet another 16 league goals in 95 matches), and

–  To English club Watford (2014: where he scored 3 league goals in 8 matches)

Odion Ighalo’s Football Career: The Rise to Fortune

Without wasting time, Watford FC quickly signed up Odion on a permanent deal from 2014 to 2017 – the same day he was released by Udinese. Just three months into the contract, Odion delivered 4 second-half goals to his team  His impressive goal statistics continued into December 2015, when he received the English Premier League Player of the Month. By March 2016, Odion helped Watford to rise up to the fourth position in the English FA Cup finals, for the first time in 9 years. 

The striker’s performance earned him another 5-year contract with Watford in August 2016, though he could only score one goal thereafter. In all, Odion had a personal record of 34 league goals in 82 matches throughout his stay at Watford FC.  

Then in January 2017, Odion signed up with the Chinese Super League club, Changchun Yatai between 2017 and 2018. Within that period, he scored 36 league goals in 55 club matches and was ranked the second-highest goal scorer. Unfortunately, Changchun Yatai was relegated in 2018. 

Odion went ahead to join Chinese club, Shanghai Shenhua on transfer in February 2019, and earned a contract extension in March 2020. He was subsequently loaned by his team to English club Manchester United FC in January 2020 (due to Covid-19 restrictions). Even though the move cost Odion a pay cut, he was nevertheless happy to play for his dream team.  Odion became the first Nigerian player ever, to play for the prestigious English club. His loan deal was subsequently extended till January 2021 due to Covid-19 interference with league matches, which were suspended for a while. 

And by February 2021, Odion moved over to Saudi Arabia. He signed up with the Saudi professional football club Al Shabab for two and a half years. He scored 21 league goals in 31 matches.  Then he signed up with Al Hilal football club in January 2022 where he is still functioning to date. As of February 2023, Odion had netted no less than 31 league goals in 41 matches.

Between 2015 and 2019, Odion Ighalo was chosen to join the  Nigerian national team. He was part of the Nigerian squad that played in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. He also joined the national team for the 2019 African Cup of Nations qualification and scored seven goals. Ultimately, between 2015 and 2002, Odion played for the Nigerian national team in a total of 37 matches and scored 16 league goals. 

Odion Ighalo: Soccer Awards

The skilled player that he is, Odion Ighalo’s football career naturally earned him some reputable awards over the years. They include the following:

Personal Awards

  • Premier League Player of the Month (December 2015)
  • Africa Cup of Nations Golden Boot (2019)
  • Saudi Professional League Player of the Month (April & May 2021; March 2022)
  • Saudi Professional League Top Scorer (2021 to 2022)

Team Awards

  • Africa Cup of Nations Team of the Tournament (2019)
  • Saudi Professional League Team of the Year (2021 to 2022)


Odion Ighalo’s Personal Life

Odion is a father of three kids and a philanthropist. He set up the Ighalo Orphanage Home in Ijegun, Lagos-Nigeria in December 2017, where he caters to homeless children. 


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About the author

Robin Okwanma

Hi, I'm Robin Okwanma. Software Engineer || Django, Python || React, React Native || Blogger. Technical Writer.

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