Ighalo will add new qualities to United attack
News of Odion Ighalo’s last-minute loan move to Manchester United took the football world by surprise when it was announced on 31 January, but the deal could prove a shrewd venture during the final months of the season.
The Reds negotiated a mammoth 10 games in 32 days at the start of 2020, and have not notched a league goal since in-form forward Marcus Rashford picked up a back injury.
It was clear that reinforcements were needed and, in Nigerian striker Ighalo, we have brought in a character with Premier League experience, a physical style that adds versatility to the attack and, above all, cast-iron levels of personal commitment.
Most fans will remember the 30-year-old from his spell at Watford between 2014 and 2017, where he notched 39 goals in 99 appearances, picking up the Premier League Player of the Month award in December 2015.
But where has the man from Lagos been since? And what has he been up to? Most importantly, what can we expect from Ighalo when he first steps onto the field in a United shirt?
Well, to put it simply, Ighalo has continued scoring goals, and at a very respectable rate. Both in China – for Changchun Yatai and Shanghai Shenhua – where he netted 46 Chinese Super League goals in three seasons, and for his country, Nigeria, who he helped to third place in last year’s African Cup of Nations with a competition-leading five goals.
While Ighalo’s career may have drifted from the minds of English-based fans when he left Watford three years ago, the goals have continued coming. And outscoring Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Riyad Mahrez at the AFCON is a fairly decent indicator that he is still effective at a high level.
In a more detailed sense, Ighalo should also bring in a number of different qualities to the Reds’ attack under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Rashford, along with Anthony Martial, Daniel James and Mason Greenwood, provide various mixtures of blinding pace and dazzling technical dexterity, but the quartet would openly admit that scrapping ugly with rugged centre-halves is not their preferred mode of combat.
But scan through any highlights reel of the goals Ighalo scored for Watford, and you can see that Odion – or Jude, as his friends call him – is not a man that is easily dislodged.
Even when the ball played to him is not ideal, there’s a fair chance he will find a way to make it stick under his control. Solskjaer will hope that gives United a string to their bow that they’ve arguably lacked since Zlatan Ibrahimovic left the club in 2018. Ighalo’s work-rate, pressing and aggression have been constants through his entire career.
Quique Sanchez Flores – who coached the player at both Watford and Shanghai – told the Athletic: “I felt in China, he gave exactly the same effort and quality as he gave me four years ago [with Watford]. We had the feeling in China that he could recover a high level with any team in Europe.”
Ighalo will need time to reach Premier League readiness – he has not played since December – but with United beginning a winter break, and due to embark on a training camp in Europe later this week, time is on both the club and the player’s side.
Ighalo has played three times against United, including a 3-1 win for Watford in 2016/17.
Allied to that physical presence and a consistent goalscoring rate will be oodles of determination.
It’s no secret that Ighalo has supported United since his childhood, when he grew up idolising Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole and Ryan Giggs. In 2016, he spoke of that enduring admiration – while stressing his commitment to Watford – and now he has the chance that he’s been dreaming of for all those years.
When he steps out at Old Trafford in the famous shirt, or at Stamford Bridge in two weeks’ time, you can expect to see an already determined footballer going even further, simply because playing for United is what he has waited his whole life to do.
It was also interesting to note Solskjaer referring to Ighalo as “a great lad” when reacting to the announcement.
Professional and humble, the club hope he will prove a good influence in and around Carrington and Old Trafford – the way he has done in his hometown, Ajegunle, where he has pledged over £1m towards setting up an orphanage that houses around 30 children.
United are quite clearly getting a great personality and a good player. Whether that’s enough to help him succeed in M16 during the remainder of this season, we’ll have to wait and see.
First up? Chelsea, at a ground where the records show Ighalo is yet to net. Yet the truth is a little more complicated: Ighalo ‘scored’ and celebrated there on Boxing Day 2015, only for the Premier League to later award his deflected, on-target effort to Chelsea defender Gary Cahill.
How fitting it would be for him to right that wrong later this month, on the day he completes another bit of unfinished business: making his debut for the club he has loved for decades.
The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.
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