IKENWA NNABUOGOR hails Odion Ighalo’s winning dance after ranging for 17 years in foreign land as he savours his first league title medal in Saudi Arabia…
Saudi Arabia summed up a superb career for Odion Ighalo since he left the shores of the country 17 years ago to begin his professional football career in Norway, by winning the league title in the just concluded season in the oil-rich Saudi Arabia.
Not only did the former Udinese striker grab his well-deserved league title after long years of meritorious labour, he would sign off his great season adding the top scorer’s award to the league diadem.
Ighalo endured a solid 17 years of title-less sojourn since he exchanged Bridge Boy’s blue colours for defunct Lyn Oslo’s red to have his last laugh, dispatching Al Faisaly 2-1 on the final league fixture, to not only run away with the top scorers’ award with his 24th goal of the season, but also crown his side Al Hilal champions for their record 18th league title.
Ighalo was like a house on fire for the Asian Galacticos as he blasted from start to finish, first at Al Shabab and at Al Hilal, arriving on mid-season transfer, and cruising to double glory to cap a superb season.
The former Watford hitman carried over his 12-goal harvest from Al Shabab and added another 12 to keep second-placed Al Ittihad’s Brazilian striker Romarinho at bay with four goals to scoop the league top scorers’ prize.
His goals haul had a mark of a serial marksman written all over it – a well-taken hat-trick in the 4-2 home win against arch-rivals Al Ahli on March 22, just an effort from the spot from the whole bunch and smart Player of the Month award for the month of March, to cap an unforgettable season.
Supremely double-footed, but he chose to put his right foot in the front for his haul with 13 of the 24 goals well tucked in with the right foot, leaving eight of the rest for the left foot and a manageable two from his head.
Smart fox with full baggage of tricks he is, 22 of his classic 24, were acted in the opponents’ vital area while the Saudi League hatchet men kept him outside of the box to hit his remaining two strikes.
The former Granada star chose a glory path to end his childhood dream club Manchester United’s unforgettable loan stints, scoring for fun and grabbing the Riyadh side’s record 18th league title.
His mission to Saudi was well ordered and direct from God, arrived with his Premier League goalless boots from Old Trafford and went straight into the business of the mission right from his first feel of the new turf at Al Shabab.
The modest Saudi club knew they were not going to hold on to him for too long as he ended the half season with nine goals in 13 league games.
Was he saving all the goals at Old Trafford for the Sheikhs in the Mohammed Al-Daeyea’s country?
Al Hilal had been breathed down the neck as the race to the league title frenzied and needed to strengthen their attack as Mali’s Moussa Marega struggled to fire almost alone in the attacking line and Ighalo was the perfect answer.
Needing no extra ceremony to get their brass tacks, Ighalo was left off the hook by Argentine coach Angel Ramon Diaz and the direct result is, of course, the league title, his first-ever since he left Nigeria as a 17-year-old boy.
If hard work and high work rate determined winning league titles, Ighalo would have been a veteran league champion for long.
Al Hilal held so much promise for swansong-singing Ighalo and his glory couldn’t have come at a better time than his sojourn at the champions.
At 33, he’s in the twilight of his career with his experience keeping things moving for him, so winning the league title will only boost his confidence for a further shot at more honours before he finally hangs his boots.
But the 2019 African Cup of Nations goleador isn’t singing retirement songs yet, he’s got the well-oiled wheels on his feet to grab the headlines again.
This could be the beginning of more laurels for Ighalo, after all, the old wine, they say, tastes better.
Al Hilal are top club by all standard not only in Saudi, but the whole of Asia, and can guarantee a lot more honours for Ighalo, who now has his tails up to mount the podium for yet another double honours.
Suitors are beckoning again for a Euro return but the lure of Petro-dollars could make the Ajegunle-born star to shun that direction to remain in the Middle East to chase further club and individual honours.
Al Ittihad and Al Ahli are perennial money bag title contenders and could land Ighalo with the right fees to fight Al Hilal for the top prize after beating them for three times in a row for the league title.
Life’s indeed good and getting interesting for Ighalo, who doesn’t have anything to lose going forward in his Saudi adventure.
Smart move to Saudi, as it appears, and spending a lot more time there could mean adding more to his honours’ cabinet.
Ighalo is surely on cruise in the blue waters of the Middle East.