Former Manchester United and Watford striker Odion Ighalo says he is not rushing to come out of international retirement, but confirmed talks are ‘ongoing’ about a Nigeria return.
The 32-year-old quit the Super Eagles after finishing top scorer at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations and previously resisted pressure from coach Gernot Rohr to reverse his decision.
Both Rohr and Nigeria Football Federation president Amaju Pinnick have publicly called for Ighalo to play in the country’s upcoming 2022 World Cup qualifiers.
“Talks have been going on for a while now, and I respect the coach and the NFF president,” Ighalo, now playing for Al Shabab in Saudi Arabia, told BBC Sport Africa.
“But it’s still an ongoing talk and it’s not something I have to rush.”
Victor Osimhen has filled the void left by Ighalo’s absence as the Napoli striker emerged as joint-top scorer with five goals in qualifying for the 2021 Nations Cup.
But Ighalo’s impressive recent club form has prompted Rohr to consider him again, while Pinnick reiterated the need for his experience to “combine with our energetic youthful Osimhen, [Paul] Onuachu, Kelechi (Iheanacho) et al”.
Death threats despite scoring goals
The decision to bring back Ighalo, who has eight goals in nine matches for Al Shabab this season, has led to a public backlash from fans on local radio and social media.
“Osimhen is still is our number one striker,” Rohr said. “But if Ighalo will come back, his maturity and experience will help Osimhen, the others and our team.”
Ighalo captained Nigeria at the Under-20 World Cup in 2009, but then had a six-year wait for his senior debut, which came in a friendly at home against Uganda in Uyo.
The player endured death threats aimed at his family after failing to score at the 2018 World Cup as the side failed to progress from their group.
But he produced seven goals to finish top scorer in the 2019 Nations Cup qualifying, before his five goals and one assist helped Nigeria finish third at the tournament in Egypt.
Ighalo’s 16 international goals rank him among the country’s top six scorers.
Nigeria face Liberia and Cape Verde next month in their final two Group C matches in World Cup qualifying, with just the group winners progressing to the play-off round.
Oluwashina Okeleji / Football Writer, Nigeria
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