From Ajegunle ‘stadium’ to premier league


Living the dream like Odion Ighalo

The Maracana is famous worldwide as a theatre of dreams in football. It is the largest stadium in Rio de Jenario, Brazil, a country renown for football prowess and for producing some of the world’s best talents. Maracana has hosted many high-profile football tournaments and recently played host to the Olympics Games.

Back home in Nigeria, a lot of people admire Brazilian footballers like Kaka, Pele, Ronaldiho, Rivaldo, Neymah, to name a few, so much so that they adopt their names as aliases.

In Ajegunle, for instance, a densely populated community in Lagos, residents, like many Nigerians, are passionate about football and there is an abundance of music and football talents from the slum so much so that the Brazilian legends command a cult-like following. In addition to having churned out a number of international football stars, Ajegunle hosts the popular Maracana Stadium, named after the one in Brazil. Here, inter-community tournaments are held.

Young boys and girls can be seen from across the lagoon and the TinCan port, running round the field with determination on their faces as they hone their footballing skills. One of such players, Timothy Ugbade, a student who spends his spare time playing football with his friends there, said he hopes to be the next big star to come out of Ajegunle, just like two of his soccer heroes: Emmanuel Amunike and Odion Ighalo.

Football, aside from music and fashion, is one of the tools employed in engaging young people in order to keep them away from delinquencies and positively occupy their time and minds. Brands like SuperSport have used sports, particularly football under its Let’s Play initiative, to encourage healthy lifestyles as well as avail young people opportunites to harness their talents and become great sports men and women just like their football idols in Nigeria and across the world. Sometimes, the company enlists the support of ex-Super Eagle stars like Victor Ikpeba and JJ Okocha to inspire and encourage young people to stay true to their dreams.

According to the General Manager, SuperSport, Felix Awogu, “providing football for young people and encouraging them to play has been quite impactful because they aspire to become like the Victor Ikpebas of this world and work hard toward achieving such dreams, just like Odion Ighoalo did.
Like many before him, the latest MultiChoice brand ambassador, Odion Ighalo’s dreams of being a world-class footballer also began on the streets of Ajegunle.

Speaking on his journey to stardom, Odion said his parents were happy that he spent his spare time playing football in the fields and keeping away from trouble. His mother, a trader, ensured that she bought him football boots and gave him enough money to be at ‘Maracana stadium,’ where he practised with his friends, nurturing the dream of one day playing on the international scene like his idols and making his family and country proud.

As a young man with so much love for the sport but living in Ajegunle, it was the encouragement and support of his mother that kept him going to the Maracana Stadium even when he couldn’t always afford the bus fare. His mother, who has always been his biggest supporter, would rake money together from her store so he could continue to pursue his dream.

His first club was the Olodi Warriors, where he played until he was spotted by the manager of Julius Berger FC, and then went abroad to where he was sent for trials at Lyn Oslo, Norway, a club which current Super Eagles Captain, Mike Obi, had a shirt in a few years ago. From there, he was bought by Italian Serie A side, Udinese. The rest, as they say, is history.

Today, Odion plays for Watford FC, United Kingdom, a club he watched as a kid and is an inspiration to children hoping to follow in his steps one day. He is the perfect choice to drive the Live Your Dream campaign, which celebrates perseverance and the determination of Nigerians to achieve their dreams against all odds.

According to MultiChoice Nigeria, the campaign also tells a story of hope and victory and what better way to tell it than with Odion Ighalo, a living example of an achiever who against all odds has emerged as a superstar. In addition to playing for an English Premiership club, he has been honoured by his former La Liga club, Granada, by having his name written on one of their stadium entrances.

During the ambassadorial signing ceremony at the DStv head office, Odion confirmed that he aspired to play in the Premiership whenever he went to watch football at viewing centres beamed via DStv SuperSport. Dreams do come true. Not only does he now have DStv in his home, he is also bearing the DStv flag. “I am happy to be part of the MultiChoice family. Growing up, we couldn’t afford to have DStv in our house. I used to pay to watch football at viewing centres. It is a dream come true and I am looking forward to this new relationship with MultiChoice,” he stated.

Odion Jude Ighalo’s fairy tale began on the streets of Ajegunle. This is an indication that everyone who has a dream, with perseverance and determination will achieve it. MultiChoice recognises this fact and encourages everyone to be inspired like Odion Ighalo to live their dreams.

With football matches from across major leagues such as the Premiership and La Liga, including the fast-rising Nigerian Professional Football League available on SuperSport to DStv subscribers, many more talented youngsters will be inspired to follow in the footsteps of Ighalo. Watching theses matches, the moves, dribbles and incredible skills displayed by footballers with backgrounds similar to Ighalo’s, the sky is the limit for these youngsters.

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