In a poverty-stricken ghetto in Lagos, Nigeria, Odion Ighalo remembers dodging bullets during football training. Growing up in Ajegunle, gangs were rife and opportunities scarce. Ighalo had to scrape together the money to ride the bus to matches -- sometimes, there wasn't enough. Now, the 26-year-old striker is one of the Premier League's top performers after his torrent of goals for Watford last season catapulted the team into England's top flight.
On the Premier League:
“In Nigeria, everybody watches the Premier League. It's the best league in the world. If it was [about the] money, I would be in China by now. This is the best moment of my career so far.”
On playing football in Nigeria:
“We had bad gangs going into the ghetto, taking marijuana and all that. I remember when we were training some people who stole would have to cross through the field and police were shooting guns. We had to run and bend down because a stray bullet can hit anybody. I was young then -- I was so afraid that day.”
On the future:
"I will keep on doing what I'm doing and make sure I'm the best I can be."
Work hard and pray that is my motto. It’s a game. Anything can happen.
The beginning was very tough because Ajegunle is like a ghetto. You have to be strong mentally. You have to work hard. You have to give your best for you to come out of that place.
I could remember when we were training in the field then when some people that stole, they’d have to cross through the field and police were shooting gun and all that. We had to run. I was young then. Shooting guns. We had to run and bend down because you know a stray bullet can hit anybody.
I was so afraid that day but this is how things are there. We cannot change it. We just need to carry on our lives and make sure we make the best out of it.
My mum bought me my first football shoes. I can remember they were Copa Mundials. In Nigeria, in Africa you have to pay for your football shoes. Pay for water you drink. You have to pay for everything.
But, my mum stood beside me because sometimes my dad want to spank me when I go and play football. I come back and I don’t do my homework and all that. I can remember they would argue. My mum said: “You have to leave him if he wants to play football.”
Leaving Africa then and travelling to Europe because back then I was a little bit nervous, you know. I could remember the night before I went. My mum praying for me. She was crying that this is a great opportunity for me. That I have to make every use of it and all that. She don’t want me to come back here.
I could remember I was young then watching Premier League on TV and all that. I’m here today doing well and remembering this memory, thanking God and happy that this is the same League I was watching back then.
Because of me now, I think Nigerians now support Watford a lot because, you know, there they always support big teams like Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and all that. My dad too now. He’s the proudest man on earth because his name on the back there is Ighalo.
I believe if I didn’t make it through football that is the will of God because everybody has their own destiny. God said this is my destiny. When I start talking about God some people think I’m crazy but I’m not ashamed to say it anywhere I stamp my feet on this earth that God has been my source and will still be my source till the day I will leave this life. I believe strongly in God. Without God I would be nothing in my life because I know he has helped me times a number when there was no hope.
If Watford can fight the way they are doing I believe one day we can win the League and the why not the Champions League because it’s football.
That would be a great moment in my life. I’m telling you that would be great.