When Manchester United announced the signing of Odion Ighalo on deadline day, it would be safe to say that everyone in the footballing world was caught by surprise. It was no secret that the club was scouring the transfer market for a striker. Even before Marcus Rashford’s long-term injury, the Red Devils were short on options in the forward department. The lack of strikers was evident with Daniel James playing as a makeshift striker a few times this season. Linked with names like Mario Mandžukić and Erling Braut Håland, no one expected United to sign the Ex-Watford Nigerian international (from Shanghai Greenland Shenhua no less). Ighalo himself could not believe the news. But once he realized it was a legitimate offer and not a ruse, he could not refuse the opportunity to represent his boyhood club (even it was for a short 5 months).
I won’t lie. I had my doubts with the move at first. In recent years, the footballing world has witnessed some quality players make the move to China and play in the league Chinese Super League (CSL). That being said, there is a significant gulf in quality between the CSL and the English Premier League. Still, despite my initial apprehension, Ighalo has done incredibly well and his performances have merited a permanent move to United. His tally of 4 goals in 8 appearances shows that he can bang in the goals. Not only that, his overall performance has demonstrated that he brings many new elements to the team.
Don’t get me wrong, Ighalo is no sure starter for every match, and this is something that the Nigerian himself is well aware of. I daresay that Ighalo would give it his all even if it meant he only played in cup matches for United. That’s the kind of person he is. As a boyhood United fan, he is finally living his dream (something every United fan has once dreamt of) – to don on the United jersey and play for the Red Devils. He is precisely the player we need because his primary focus is to help the team whenever he’s on the field. He does not demand playing time, but he gives it all during training sessions. In short, he is proud to play for the club.
Above all, he offers something different to what Mason Greenwood, Anthony Martial, and Marcus Rashford do. Unlike these pacey forwards, his hold-up play is excellent. Sure, he has missed a few chances so far, but he has also produced when it mattered. His goals in the Europa League helped the club progress through the next round and given time, he would have almost certainly notched a few in the EPL.
He is a prime solution to the issue of squad depth – a different forward who is content with playing backup. Ighalo reminds me of Louis Saha during the 2007/2008 season, when Manchester United preferred the partnership of Carlos Tevez and Wayne Rooney. Down the pecking order, Saha contributed when it mattered and was a real team player. Now that I think about it, Manchester United always had somewhat proper third-choice forwards to field (Think Michael Owen, Danny Welbeck, James Wilson, Falcao – okay some were pretty awful, but the point is that there was depth). Ighalo is a unique player and is different from Saha. However, just as Saha offered something different to what Tevez and Rooney offered United going forward, so does Ighalo to the current crop of United forwards.
United need to act fast. His loan deal expires on 31st May 2020, and there seems to be no attempt to secure his services permanently. Shanghai is reportedly asking around 15 million pounds for the transfer, and while it looks like a fair bit for an ageing forward, it is honestly pocket change for the Glazers. Just look at Brady’s contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (the Glazers’s other team).
Strangely, the impact of the coronavirus may have helped Ighalo’s cause. The global pandemic has apparently altered United’s transfer strategy. Ed Woodward has recently ruled out any big-money signings in the next transfer window, citing that the virus has devastated the financial side of the footballing world. A signing like Ighalo, therefore, makes sense. A relatively cheap but proper forward who is willing to take a massive pay cut to join the club is a no-brainer for United.
However, we have made questionable transfer decisions in the past and not signing Ighalo could potentially be a new one. Whatever happens this summer, I am going to be ballsy and say this – Ighalo has joined the ranks of Henrik Larsson and Michael Owen in becoming a cult hero at United. He will be fondly remembered regardless of his duration of stay (though I sincerely hope it extends beyond the current campaign).