Will Odion Ighalo go on to be a short-term success at Old Trafford?
Only one transfer sent shockwaves throughout the world of football on the January transfer window deadline day. That deal saw Nigerian goalscoring sensation, Odion Ighalo, complete a stunning switch to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United on a six-month loan deal from Chinese Super League (CSL) outfit, Shanghai Shenhua.
The 30-year-old, who departed the English Premier League (EPL) and Watford in 2017 to join Changchun Yatai, is back in the top-flight of English football despite many pundits anticipating a decline in his career after leaving the Hornets for the big bucks of the CSL.
Ironically, Ighalo left Vicarage Road on deadline day in January 2017, in a £20m deal to Changchun Yatai. Ighalo must have wondered whether the switch was worth it after being part of a team that was relegated in 2018, despite scoring 21 league goals.
However, he did enough to secure a deal with another CSL club in the shape of Shanghai Shenhua. In January 2018, it was revealed that Ighalo sensationally rejected the chance of a move to Spanish giants, Barcelona, preferring his £300,000-a-week contract in the Far East.
Ighalo was named Nigerian Footballer of the Year in 2019
Ten goals in 17 appearances for Shenhua demonstrated that Ighalo was still razor sharp in front of goal. At the 2019 Nigerian Sports Awards, Ighalo was named Nigeria’s Footballer of the Year, gaining the edge over women’s Nigerian football icon, Asisat Oshoala.
His performances clearly caught the eye of the Manchester United hierarchy, who have grown desperate in January for more attacking options due to the injury to Marcus Rashford.
One of the biggest issues for the Red Devils this season has been their lack of firepower. With just 36 goals to their name in their first 25 league games, 29 short of their city rivals Manchester City, there will be enormous pressure on Ighalo to hit the ground running, particularly with United still in with a shout of finishing in the Champions League places. According to Marathonbet, the Red Devils are fifth favourites to secure a top-four finish, with former boss Jose Mourinho currently expected to pip United to fourth place with his new Spurs side.
United’s interest in Ighalo stemmed from a discussion between the Reds’ executive vice-chairman, Ed Woodward and his agent, Atta Aneke. Aneke is a known associate of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s agent, Jim Solbakken, who clearly worked with Aneke to revive a deal for Ighalo. The 30-year-old has been pictured wearing a Manchester United shirt in his teenage years living in Nigeria, so this deal has been painted as a dream move for the striker.
Will Ighalo have the fitness to make an impact from day one?
The jury is most definitely out as to whether he can hit the ground running at Old Trafford. First and foremost, Ighalo and his Shanghai Shenhua team are only in pre-season training at the moment, with some football experts sceptical as to his match fitness.
Former Watford boss and Ighalo’s former coach, Quique Sanchez Flores, has warned that CSL teams don’t train anywhere near as hard as EPL. The Spaniard has predicted that Ighalo could take several weeks to get up to speed, which is not what United need with Rashford sidelined.
Ighalo arrived promptly in Manchester, emerging from the Lowry Hotel to talk with members of the press. He called the move a “dream come true” and one that he’s “always dreamed about” as a youngster.
Power and pace are two key attributes that United fans can expect from Ighalo, once he is at full match sharpness. Alongside Tory Deeney, he was virtually unplayable at times in a Watford shirt, having been plucked from relative obscurity by Watford’s sister club, Granada. The fact that Barcelona were interested this time last year suggests that he should be good enough for a team pushing for top four contention in the EPL. His physical presence should allow the likes of Daniel James, Anthony Martial and even Bruno Fernandes the space to cause EPL defences greater problems.
Although it’s been widely criticised as a short-term approach, the United hierarchy clearly have one eye on the close season to make big inroads in the transfer market for permanent deals.
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