Time Capsules: Odion Ighalo's Hot Form (2016)

By: Watford FC Staff

In our 'Time Capsules' series, we dive into the Watford FC archives to re-publish a classic interview from an historic matchday programme.

For our fifth instalment, we re-visit a feature interview with former striker Odion Ighalo from the 2015/16 campaign – Watford's first season back in the Premier League since 2006/07.

Having bagged 20 goals in the Championship to help secure promotion to the top flight, Ighalo debuted in the Premier League with an impressive 15 goals – plus a further two in the FA Cup – making him the Hornets' top scorer for the campaign.

In this interview the Nigerian reflects on his fine form and a lucrative partnership with Troy Deeney.

The Programme

  • Season: 2015/16
  • Match: Watford 3-2 Aston Villa
  • Date: Saturday April 30, 2016
  • Manager: Quique Sánchez Flores
  • Competition: Premier League

The Article


Watford’s top scorer lifts the lid on his intuitive partnership with Troy Deeney, and a seamless adaption to Premier League football…

They're one of the Premier League’s most talked about strike partnerships. Many a VT and column inch has been dedicated to their almost telepathic understanding as they’ve excelled leading the Hornets’ line throughout this season, but Odion Ighalo admits his eye-catching link-up play with Troy Deeney isn’t the result of endless hours honing their craft on the training pitch.

Rather, Ighalo credits the pair’s great success to a natural chemistry which was forged during Watford’s successful promotion push last season.

“There’s no secret really. We work hard as always in every game, and yes we do try things sometimes in training, but to be honest it’s not something we’ve ever really sat down and talked about or trained specifically for. Quite often in training we don’t even play on the same side,” said Ighalo, speaking exclusively to THE HORNET.

“Troy’s a great guy and a great striker, he’s a motivator and he’s the captain of this team. He’s a very strong, physical guy and I know that he can win 80 or 90 per cent of the balls, so I just go close to him. I know I’m fast and I can run behind defenders, so I like to play close to him.

“When I make runs, he already knows where I’m going and I already know where he’s going. It’s been working for us since last season, when he scored 21 goals and I scored 20. Thankfully it’s carried on this season too, so I’m happy about that and it’s great playing with him, because he makes things easy for me.

“He’s the best partner I’ve had. I’ve played with good strikers in Italy and Spain, but not in a partnership as good as me and Troy. You can see our combination, how many goals we score and how many we create for each other. The statistics are good.”

They certainly are. The pair have scored a combined 68 goals since first playing together at the start of last season, and their striking form has carried over into the Premier League too, with an impressive 27 bagged in total this term. But it’s not just the goals, Ighalo’s three assists in 2015/16 have been bettered only by Deeney’s eight, and the Nigerian believes his partner in crime’s all-round contribution warrants an international call-up.

“I think Troy deserves an opportunity with the national team because if you see the way he is working and not only scoring goals, I believe he has what it takes to play for England,” said Ighalo, who has now played seven times on the international scene for Nigeria.

“Some people classify strikers just by their goals, but you see the work he does for the team as well. When you are playing for a newly-promoted team like Watford against some big teams and world-class players, you have to chase every ball, and you can see that in the way Troy runs from the front to the back. Even if he’s not scoring goals, he’s always going back to defend and help, and the work he puts in is very important.”

It’s Ighalo’s goals that have regularly hit the headlines this season, however. The front-man’s transition to top-flight football has appeared seamless, with his first Premier League strike scored just nine minutes into his debut as a substitute at Everton on the opening day.

Since then he’s notched an impressive 16, including 14 in the league, and the 26-year-old admits his fine form, particularly during the first half of the season, even took himself by surprise.

“I want to thank God for what has been a successful season so far. I am happy with my achievement and the achievement of the team especially, and if somebody had said I’d get the goals I’ve got I’d have said it wouldn’t have been possible, because this is just my first season in the Premier League,” said Ighalo, who won the division’s Player of the Month award in December.

“The Premier League isn’t easy, it’s a very tough competition, and I’m happy so far with the work I’ve put in. I’ve not scored for some games now and as a striker I want to score goals, so I have to keep my head up and keep working hard. Most importantly the team has been doing well and we’ve already reached our objective, but we want to keep pushing and see how far we can go between now and the end of the season.”

Twelve of those goals came before Christmas, and Ighalo admits that a superb run during the early weeks of the campaign – including strikes against Everton, Swansea, Newcastle and Bournemouth – gave him the confidence required to approach matches without fear.

“As a striker, when you score goals it gives you more confidence. It gives you more edge, it makes you happy and makes you think that every game you’re going to score, and that’s how I was feeling. I was very happy scoring those goals in those moments, but I knew sometimes there would be times I would have to go through dry spells, like every striker does,” said Ighalo.

“I’m happy that I’ve done what I’ve done, and now the league is coming towards the end I want to keep my head high, keep working and assisting my team-mates. It’s about winning games. Of course I want to score more goals and I want to help my team, but if the team’s winning and I’m not scoring I’m still happy.”

Ighalo’s referring, of course, to his scoring from during the second half of the season, with just three goals added since the turn of the year, two of which in the FA Cup. The front-man admits that at times he’s put himself under too much pressure to maintain the high standards he set early on, but he’s also certain that the goals will soon start flowing again, as long as he keeps on working hard.

“It is difficult because sometimes when the team is not winning you feel like you are letting the team down. As a striker you want to score goals, and if you’re not scoring it’s harder for the team to win the game,” he said.

“I was doing that from the beginning of the season and now the goals are not coming as quickly, so sometimes it’s easy to feel as if you’re letting down the team and all the people that believe in you.

“Sometimes you put too much pressure on yourself, but the coach has been talking to me a lot and saying I’m doing everything fine, I’m working hard in the field and I have to keep doing that. You have to keep your head down and keep working, and then the goals will come.

“It’s not worth getting too stressed about it. You’re a striker and you want to score goals, but it’s all about team-work and if you don’t score, hopefully another player will. I’ve removed that pressure from my head and if the goals come, fine. If not, as long as we win the games it’s good.”

Despite Watford’s successful return to Premier League football, much of the side’s goalscoring burden has been carried by Ighalo and Deeney this term. Miguel Layún, Almen Abdi and Nathan Aké were the Hornets’ only other scorers before the turn of the year, and Ighalo admits it’s been a relief to see a few other Golden Boys starting to contribute in recent weeks.

“When you’re not scoring you hope some other team-mates will score for you, and even though we’d still like to see more goals from other areas, it has been better recently. At the beginning of the season it was only really me and Troy that were scoring, so when neither of us scored it was difficult for us to win games,” he said.

“Now you can see in our games recently that some other players have been contributing. Ben Watson, José Holebas and Sebastian Prödl have all scored goals, and we’ve got people like Adlène Guedioura and Craig Cathcart who have also chipped in.

“It’s a relief, because it means that even if me and Troy aren’t scoring we have other people who are able to help us pick up the points. That’s the most important thing in any team, and I’m very happy about that.”

It’s certainly been a whirlwind 21 months following Ighalo’s arrival in England; the striker has scored a remarkable 36 goals in 76 outings since moving to Vicarage Road in July 2014. A fans’ favourite at Granada, and a scorer of some crucial goals as the Spanish outfit rose through the divisions, by his own admission Ighalo was never prolific in La Liga, and he believes he’s more suited to the English way of playing.

“In Spain I did well, but it was not like this. I’m very strong, I have speed and I’m technical, and using those strengths over here has been great. The Premier League has improved me not only as a player but as a man, as somebody who can inspire people to believe that anything can be achieved by working hard,” he said.

“This is the best league in the world to be in. I’ve played in Spain, I’ve played in Italy and now I’m playing in England, and I think it’s the best league in the world. I’m happy to be doing well here and hopefully I’ll keep doing well. Playing over here has really improved my game, it’s really changed my mentality and it’s taken me to a different level.

“In La Liga you have more tactical teams and it’s more about tika-taka and the football. Here it’s very physical, the tempo is very high and you have to be ready to run for 95 minutes. Playing against all the big teams, you have to be ready to defend always and use every opportunity which comes your way, which we have been doing very well this season.”

Ighalo is little more than six months into the new five-year deal he agreed with the Hornets back in September, and the striker admits he was always keen to prove himself in the Premier League this season, despite some well-documented interest from Chinese outfit Hebei China Fortune, who offered the Nigerian a mind-boggling sum of money to leave Watford last summer.

“I had a couple of offers but the Chinese one was really crazy. I have ambition and my dream was to play in the Premier League. We’d only just achieved promotion, so I couldn’t just leave and go to China,” he said.

“The money was great and people would say I’m crazy for turning it down, but for me, proving myself in the Premier League was the most important thing. I’ve proven I can score goals at this level and people can see what I can do now, so I don’t regret turning down that money one bit.

“It wasn’t easy and I thought about it for three nights without sleeping, but I’m happy I signed a new contact here, I’m happy the fans love me here and the coach is happy with my work, so I want to keep learning and improving every day.

“When a player is doing well he will be linked with other clubs, just like Troy has been too. But that’s normal, I don’t let things like that get into my head because I have a contract here, I’m happy here and I’m playing week-in week-out, so I don’t need anything apart from that.

“I want to help my team go as high as possible. We’re safe now but we want to go further and see if we can end this season as far up the table as we can. It’s been a great season for this club, so we want to make sure it finishes in a positive way as well.”



“I would say scoring my first Premier League goal against Everton in the first game. I hadn’t trained that week until the Friday morning because my knee had been swollen, so it was a surprise when I was included on the list to travel to Everton the next day. I was hoping to make my Premier League debut because I needed to get a feel for how it is and it’s one of the things I’d been craving for, so to come off the bench and score a goal after just nine minutes was perfect. I’ll still cherish that day all the days of my life. It was a dream come true, because I’d been watching the Premier League for a long time and I really wanted to do well.”


“Scoring against Swansea at home was a big relief. After the Everton game we didn’t score for something like three or four games, so people started talking about us being under pressure. It’s not that we didn’t play well in those games, but we didn’t have the opportunity to score goals. Winning against Swansea at home and scoring the goal was good, because it took us further up the table and gave us more confidence to keep fighting on.”


“The goal at Arsenal in the FA Cup was one of the most important because it helped us get to the semi-finals. It’s one of those things I will always look back on and be grateful to God for. Playing against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium is not easy, but beating them 2-1 and scoring a goal in that kind of game and that kind of atmosphere made the fans and everybody attached to the club so happy. That’s what we were looking to achieve, and I was very pleased about that.”


“I think the game against Liverpool was my best. From start to finish the team were working hard, fighting together, giving everything we had, and I was really pleased to score two goals in that game. It’s not only about scoring goals, but the way you’re helping and working for the team really matters. That’s why I want to keep going, even when the goals are not coming I will still be putting in my hard work, running and chasing every ball.”

Troy’s a great guy and a great striker, he’s a motivator and he’s the captain of this team. He’s a very strong, physical guy and I know that he can win 80 or 90 per cent of the balls, so I just go close to him. I know I’m fast and I can run behind defenders, so I like to play close to him.
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