Odion Ighalo believes the additional travelling he has undertaken this season to represent Nigeria has taken its toll during Watford’s Premier League campaign.
International football is still new to the Hornets striker. He’d never represented the Super Eagles prior to his move to Vicarage Road, despite plying his trade in the top tier of Spanish football for Granada.
The 26-year-old finally got the call up he’d always wished for in June last year, fresh off the back of helping Watford win promotion to the Premier League with an astonishing burst of goals during the final five months of Watford’s Championship season.
After the summer break, Ighalo picked up from where he’d left off. He scored on the opening day against Everton and struck 13 more times before the start of 2016. His form was rewarded with further international recognition and he travelled back to Nigeria in both October and November for friendly matches and African Cup of Nations qualifiers respectively.
But in the immediate Premier League games that followed those trips, Arsenal and Manchester United at home, Ighalo struggled to perform. It was the same scenario in March ahead of Watford’s match against the Gunners at the Emirates.
“The international week is tiring,” Watford’s top scorer told the From The Rookery End Podcast.
“After you play at the weekend you have to fly to and play with the national team. You then play twice in six or seven days after a long flight. I remember that [in March] I flew from here to Nigeria, it was seven hours. Then we flew to Egypt, back again to Nigeria and then back to England.
“It was really difficult and telling on me. We are humans, not robots. So it’s really tiring. But what can you do? It’s your national team. We are all working to represent the national team.”
Ighalo’s form, in parallel with Watford’s, has tailed off dramatically since the turn of the year. He has struck just three times in 2016 and only one of those has come in the Premier League. But he stepped up when Watford needed his goals most. His clinical edge proved vital in the cut-throat environment of the Premier League.
“There are games in the Championship that if you miss a chance you know you’ll get another one,” he said. “In the Premier League, if you miss a chance, you won’t get another one. We are the underdogs. We have to play well and take every chance if we want to win a game.”
It would be churlish, given his tally of 16 for the campaign, to suggest this has been a poor season for Ighalo. Certainly his form during the first half of the season didn’t go unnoticed by the Premier League’s elite.
It’s why he is continuously rumoured to move away from Vicarage Road this summer. Again this week Manchester United, Arsenal and West Ham United have been linked as possible destinations should Ighalo leave Watford. Whether any of those clubs would pay the sort of money the Hornets would want in order to part with the top scorer is unlikely.
But Nicola Salerno, who is working with Watford as a sporting consultant, says Ighalo is for sale at the right price.
“Everything will depend on what offers we get for Ighalo,” he told The Sun. “He is an extraordinary player who could interest a lot of clubs. He has done really well this season, scoring so many goals.”
You can listen to the From The Rookery End podcast, which features the exclusive interview with Ighalo, by clicking HERE