Odion Ighalo: Nigerian hotshot still shining bright among RSL's galaxy of stars

Outside of the evergreen Cristiano Ronaldo, only two other players have scored multiple hat-tricks in the Roshn Saudi League this season.

Al Hilal’s Brazilian star Malcom is one, notching on his RSL debut no less, and the other you might think is teammate Aleksandar Mitrovic, or Al Ittihad counterpart Karim Benzema. Or perhaps Benzema's colleague at the Jeddah club, Abderrazak Hamdallah.

But you’d be wrong. It is in fact Al Wehda’s Odion Ighalo, who smashed home three goals against both Damac and Al Khaleej, part of the 12 goals he has scored in this season's RSL.

And, while Ighalo hasn’t reached the heights of his 24-goal season in the 2021-22 campaign, in which he played for both Al Shabab and Al Hilal, it continues his streak of scoring double figures for a third consecutive season.

Thus, the Nigerian has taken his tally to 64 goals in 96 RSL appearances. It makes for impressive reading.

It also makes Ighalo one of the most prolific scorers in the RSL in recent seasons. Indeed, since the 2021-22 season, only Al Nassr's Anderson Talisca has scored more goals (56) than Ighalo (55), which further underlines the latter's potency in front of goal.

“Strikers enjoy goals,” Ighalo said in an interview with FIFA last year. “Sometimes the goals don’t come, but I work hard and give my best to contribute.

"It’s a team effort. My target is to help the team win, to help the team keep progressing. Sometimes I score goals, sometimes I don’t, but I’m happy as long as we’re winning. As a striker though, you want to score goals to boost your confidence.

"I try to get a goal in every game I play. If not, I try to provide an assist. But ultimately, as long as my team wins, I’m happy.”

Now in his fourth season in Saudi Arabia, the former Super Eagles international’s impact across the league has been profound since putting pen to paper with Al Shabab back in February 2021.

Back then, Ighalo was coming off what was considered a disappointing loan spell with English Premier League giants Manchester United. In a 13-month stint, he failed to find the net, albeit having played only 12 games.

However, Ighalo found a new lease of life in the Kingdom. At Al Shabab, he made an instant impact, with nine goals in 13 games to conclude the COVID-interrupted 2020-21 season. It was a campaign in which the capital club only just missed out on the title to Riyadh rivals Al Hilal. Ultimately, they finished runners-up, four points off the summit.

After starting the following season with another 12 goals, Al Hilal came knocking, with Ighalo joining days before they commenced their FIFA Club World Cup campaign in the UAE.

"I had a great time with Al Shabab, and I thank the club management and fans for the love and support," Ighalo told BBC Sport Africa at the time. "It's a big honour to get a chance to play for the country's most successful club in Al Hilal.

"To play in the Asian Champions League against some of the continent's finest teams is also a huge attraction, and I really can't wait."

It was in the AFC Champions League that one of his finest nights in an Al Hilal shirt occurred. In the semi-final of last year’s competition, Ighalo hit four goals in a 7-0 rout of Qatari side Al Duhail.

While he left Al Hilal with a heavy heart at the end of last season – the record four-time winners were beaten narrowly in the continental final - he has embraced the opportunity at Mecca-based Al Wehda this season, describing it on social media as a “new chapter” and a “new challenge”.


Having played for Manchester United, Ighalo is no stranger to competing against the best, but the influx of stars to the RSL this season has allowed him to rub shoulders with some of the game’s elite, including Benzema. Last year, Ighalo described the Ballon d'Or winner as “the best striker in the world”.

While Al Wehda have struggled this season, registering only nine wins from 27 league matches, Ighalo’s 12 goals have been crucial in keeping his team safely above the relegation zone.

Thanks in large part to their still-prolific, 34-year-old striker, the 12th-placed side boast the best attacking record of any team in the bottom half of the table.

While Ighalo has those dozen goals to his name, he will be hoping to add to that tally across the remainder of the season. Surprisingly for someone so prolific, he has gone six matches without scoring, so he will be desperate to end that run when Al Wehda travel to Dammam to face Steven Gerrard’s Ettifaq on Saturday night in Matchweek 28.

Even though he may no longer be challenging for silverware, clearly for Ighalo, the fire still burns the same. And, in a league of big-name stars, his is still a name that shines bright.