What does Odion Ighalo bring to Manchester United?

It’s probably safe to assume that Nigerian international Odion Ighalo was nobody’s first choice acquisition at the beginning of January. Most fans would have hoped for someone more prolific. Certainly a higher profile name. But the former Watford striker is here now and the United faithful has to accept that and support him every time he defends the famous colours.

And once you give yourself some time to think about Ighalo’s arrival, perhaps you will realise that it’s not a bad deal. Certainly not as bad as what some fans made it out to be.

The 30-year-old arrives at Old Trafford on loan from Shanghai Shenhua until the end of the season. There is no option to buy on the deal, but you would assume that if United want him at the end of his spell, they will get him. But that’s not even the point.

The incompetence of the board shone through yet again as they were not able to secure the right player that they wanted to strengthen United’s attacking personnel. And while the deadline day acquisition of Ighalo may seem like a panic reaction (let’s be honest, it probably is), it covers some bases for United in the short-term.

Ighalo brings Premier League experience first and foremost. That’s important. Particularly right now with the team struggling for goals in Marcus Rashford’s absence. The Nigerian scored 15 goals in 37 league appearances for Watford in the 2015/16 season before being offloaded to China half way through the following season. The sudden departure is discouraging, but the fact presented there is that he knows where the goal is.

Photo from the Daily Mail.
Odion Ighalo all smiles at the Lowry on the eve of his unveiling as a Manchester United player.

Ighalo was a nuisance for Premier League defenders during that breakout year, and he was even once on United’s radar during Louis Van Gaal’s tenure. He was often a scrappy striker. The kind that United have been missing for years. Someone that will feed off of scraps inside the opposition box. But Ighalo is also dangerous running at defenders and a composed finisher.

The fact that since moving to China in 2017 he has scored 46 goals in 72 league appearances will probably be overlooked by many because of the level of competition in the Chinese Super League. It’s understandable. But as aforementioned, he knows where the goal is. And he certainly hasn’t forgotten.

Last summer, Ighalo was the top scorer at the African Cup of Nations (5 in 7), where some of the worlds elite strikers were strutting their stuff. Another piece of evidence that would suggest that the Nigerian may be useful in his time at United.

And the most important thing is that he gives Ole Gunnar Solskjaer another option. Another body to be selected in a paper thin squad, particularly up front. With Rashford out until April at best, United are left with Anthony Martial, who has been struggling without his strike partner, and an 18-year-old Mason Greenwood, who is inevitably going to experience youthful inconsistencies.

So, what Ighalo offers that’s so valuable is experience and an added presence. He’s more physical than both Martial and Greenwood. He is a classic No. 9. Premier League defenders will not have forgotten his escapades from a few seasons ago. And the fact that this is a loan deal with no obligation to buy makes it an absolute win-win for Manchester United.

Ighalo is a life-long United fan. He has emphasised time and time again that this is his dream club to play for. Since signing, he has shared every fans post congratulating him on the move on his social media. This is truly a dream come true for the Nigerian, the first one ever to soon play for the Reds, and that immediately guarantees you work rate.

At the very least, United fans and Solskjaer are guaranteed that Ighalo will run his socks off and as Ole remarked recently, “break his nose” to score goals. There’s no other choice for him but to try and make the most of his potentially short spell at his dream club, and he is bound to score a few goals while he is here. And what crucial goals they could prove to be.

Once summer arrives, if Ighalo’s spell has been a success, United will be in prime position to bring in a  then 31-year-old proven goalscorer into the club on a permanent deal as an experienced squad player to add depth. If the loan is a flop, Ighalo goes back to his parent club in China and hopefully by the summer United will have identified a long-term reinforcement to the front line.

Ighalo’s loan is a low risk, high reward move by all means. And during a time where players are mostly money driven and you never really know what you’ll get from them, you know exactly what you’ll get from a fan that’s about to get to play for his beloved club.

With the rival fans, and even some United fans, mocking United for opting to bring Ighalo in, the Nigerian now has all the makings of becoming an absolute cult hero in front of the Stretford End if he contributes in the scoring department even in the slightest.

Whether you’re willing to admit it or not, the excitement and anticipation is growing for his debut. If and when he scores his first goal at Old Trafford, the atmosphere is going to be electric, and we should all be right behind Ighalo and the team as they prepare to make the final push for Top Four and some trophies after the winter break.

Author: TUD Author