Gone are the days of Odion Ighalo putting fear into defenders’ hearts with his movement, strength and sheer brilliance. The energy and excitement are gone, while he doesn’t seem to know where the goal is anymore when the opportunities do arise.
It was once a thing of beauty to see the little piece of trickery he made his trademark - shifting the ball to his right foot, shaping to shoot, before dragging the ball past the defender. Although he resorted to this tried and tested technique regularly, the skill constantly bamboozled defenders.
The striker was in remarkable form for the Hornets last season - their first season back in the ‘big time’ since being relegated to the Championship in 2007 - scoring goals with varying degrees of importance as Watford claimed several scalps in the Premier League. His 14-goal haul in the first half of the 2015-2016 campaign made him the highest scorer in English League football in the calendar year, with 30 goals, three higher than Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane.
So good was he in those first five months that the top clubs in England - notably Manchester United and Arsenal - were reportedly interested in his services a year ago. He eventually scored 17 times in 42 appearances, and his popularity with the fans of the Hertfordshire-based club - who notably had a chant dedicated to their hero - was as high as ever.
So vociferous the chants were that they shook the terraces, and his performances fully deserved the plaudits!
This season, however, has seen a considerable drop in the Lagos-born forward’s form.
The spring in his step is a thing of distant memory, a departure from his two previous seasons at Vicarage Road. The panache is gone, not to mention the zeal and determination to beat his marker.
At this stage last season he had scored over a dozen goals, as his partnership with the brawny Troy Deeney wreaked so much havoc to opposing teams. The dynamic duo, who scored 41 goals between them on the way to gaining promotion to the Premier League, jointly found the back of the net 32 times last season.
Perhaps scoring only twice in all competitions this season has led to a confidence crisis for the Nigeria forward, and while there still are suitors - notably in the Chinese Super League - attracted by his enduring qualities, some observers have also argued that a move away from the rigours of the English game might help Ighalo rediscover his scoring touch.
In the past, Ighalo has reportedly rejected offers of China, although as his struggles persist, you could forgive him for opting to move to a ‘lesser’ league.
However, the recent interest of West Bromwich Albion should persuade the 27-year-old to stay in England.
It’s no secret that Tony Pulis is a staunch admirer of the forward, having chased him since the summer of 2016. Back then, the Welshman was deterred by Watford’s asking price, but the forward’s malaise this season doesn’t seem to have put off the Albion manager, and with the striker now surely available at a lower price, Pulis is rumoured to be considering a new approach.
Having sold Saido Berahino to Stoke City, the Throstles’ need for a new frontman is only set to increase.
Leaving Walter Mazzarri’s side would represent a move away from the doom and gloom that’s surrounded the club in recent months. The departure of Quique Sanchez Flores befuddled many observers who felt the Spaniard was harshly treated, and the struggles of current manager Mazzarri has left the club short on sympathy.
Results on the pitch have suffered tremendously after a bright start, and the Nigeria international has fallen out of favor with the Italian. With the Hornets also able to call on Deeney, as well as Isaac Success and Stefano Okaka, is there any place for Ighalo at the club anymore?
Electing to move to the Hawthorns would mean Pulis finally getting his man, and would allow the veteran coach to begin to restore confident to a player who has looked a shadow of himself in recent months.
The direct style of the Baggies would also suit the poacher, with the former Stoke City tactician placing an emphasis on quick transitions and getting the ball forward to the front men quickly - a departure from Mazzarri’s rigid style. With arguably better players around him - and a potential partnership with Venezuelan Salomon Rondon - it wouldn’t take a betting man to predict a return to form.
A move to the West Midlands may also improve his form for the Super Eagles.
A plethora of critics have been clamouring for his permanent removal from the side - a consequence of his recent dreary performances for the national team - and it’s easy to see why.
His last goal of the three he’s scored for the Super Eagles came in the friendly against Luxembourg, while his only meaningful strike came way back in 2015, in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Chad, a game that was subsequently cancelled. He’s fallen down the pecking order as well, with Brown Ideye and Kelechi Iheanacho taking his place against Zambia and Algeria respectively.
At just 27, Ighalo still has so much to offer, and staying in a competitive league - rather than moving to China - will give him a higher chance of winning his place back in the team.
Musicians don’t retire; they stop when there is no more music in them. The striker has still got much music left in him, and a move to The Hawthorns may consequently spark a revival, and ultimately make detractors eat humble pie. Could Pulis be the man to revitalize this talented hitman?