Ighalo the Umpteenth to Join List of Players who play through the Immoderate Animosity

Published in Awa Football October 17 2018 font size decrease font size increase font size
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If Odion Ighalo had some semblance of pettiness in him, he’d start holding us to his goals. The forward who’s been much-maligned, particularly due to his misses in the World Cup in Russia, has taken Nigeria to the cusp of a first Nations Cup appearance in six years, contributing five of the Super Eagles’ seven goals (over 70%) in the double header over Libya.

If Ighalo had been previously accused of not coming to the party in an Eagles shirt (and four goals between 2015 and 2017 means those accusations are not so wide of the mark), then on Tuesday’s second leg against the Mediterranean Knights it was the rest of the team who failed to RSVP coach Gernot Rohr’s call to remain focused and not rest on the laurels of Saturday’s win, slacking off and blowing away a two-goal lead, before the Changchun Yatai forward rescued the points late on.

Ighalo then came out to speak on the amount of stick he received after Nigeria were knocked out of the World Cup by Russia less four months ago.  ‘They said a lot of things’ said the former Watford striker. ‘To my innocent kids, to my wife, even to the extent they threatened my life and the life of my family’. Death threats. Ighalo is the latest line of footballers to suffer from this and yet carry on with his business like a professional.

But why does it always have to be so? Being a footballer, especially representing your national side, requires quite the thick skin, but why? Yes, fans financially and emotionally invest in the teams, and perhaps have a right to voice their displeasure when the results are way far from satisfactory, but certainly not to this level. Dejan Lovren received death threats last season when his form for Liverpool was appalling. Loris Karius, also Liverpool, received death threats after his errors cost the club in Champions League final against Real Madrid. Suddenly in football, when the occasion is big, your safety and psychological well-being are on the line.

It’s always to the players’ credit that they try as much as possible to face the football and focus on their game when all this is going on, but the responsibility put on footballers to be calm in the face of absurd levels of criticism is just as absurd as the levels of criticism the players come under. And how does the world expect footballers to keep their minds on the football and get out of the said form they’re been criticised for being in, when there are of psychologically disturbing thoughts on their minds.

Asking a footballer to focus on the football and look to get back in form when his family face constant threats is a bit much, that the footballers also manage to keep their focus on the football more than anything else during that time merits some serious praise. In this age where footballers are encouraged to come out to speak if ever they’re suffering from depression and such psychological distress is no longer an unknown, expecting a player to stick with the football amidst animosity and intimidation seems unfair.

It’s the Nigeria whom some of its people give Ighalo and his family death threats for blowing opportunities at the World Cup, that some of its people also proceeded to kidnap John Obi Mikel’s father and inform of it hours before that same World Cup encounter against Argentina. Nobody pummels the finance people with death threats when the economy sinks, nobody fuels exaggerated criticism towards the people in the power sector because electricity continues to fail, so why should footballers be any different?

It’s important to keep in mind that these footballers are playing for their teams, not their lives, and maybe, maybe, just maybe, some things are much more important than football.

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