Odion Ighalo was meant to be a temporary fix… but the Nigerian is quickly becoming a cult hero at Manchester United and could extend his stay beyond this season
- Manchester United signed the forward on deadline day to bolster their attack
- Few believed he would be up to the task after joining from the Chinese League
- The Nigerian has scored three goals in six games and is proving doubters wrong
- The 30-year-old could extend his stay at the club after proving popular with fans
Odion Ighalo is quickly becoming an unlikely hero at Manchester United.
The deadline day signing has already scored three goals in two starts and is making a mockery of those who doubted him.
The Nigerian is grasping his dream with both hands and giving United a decision to make as to whether they give their boyhood fan an extended stay at Old Trafford.
Odion Ighalo scored two goals against Derby in only his second start for Manchester United
The striker also scored in his first start against Club Brugge in the last-16 of the Europa League
The unlikely January deadline day signing is grasping his dream opportunity with both hands
The 30-year-old joined in January on a loan deal until the end of the season after the club failed to land Josh King from Bournemouth.
Ighalo was seen a rushed, panic signing as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer desperately looked to add another attacking option to his squad.
The former Watford man was hardly on the radar of other Premier League clubs, plying his trade for Shanghai Shenhua in China, and few expected he would be the answer to United’s problems.
Speaking to The Guardian at the start of February, Rio Ferdinand questioned whether the forward could live up to Old Trafford expectations.
‘Ighalo has played in the English Premier League before, but one thing I am concerned about is that he is coming from China… they are trying to build a league there, but the standard is not up to the Premier League.’
Paul Scholes was another former United player to suggest Ighalo would struggle to meet the level expected of him.
There were question marks over whether the forward would meet the standards at United
But he’s proven his doubters wrong including former players Paul Scholes and Rio Ferdinand
‘I don’t think he’s a signing for the long term,’ he told Robbie Savage’s Premier League Breakfast on BBC Radio 5 Live.
‘I think his scoring record in China is very good but is it that credible? I don’t know.’
But a goal in his first start in the Europa League against Club Brugge and two more in the FA Cup against Derby has forced both to make a u-turn.
Scholes admitted the striker looked sharp against the Belgian side and predicted him to get more chances while Ferdinand said the forward offers the team a reference point and gives other players opportunities to run off him with his hold-up play.
What United have been lacking this season is a box striker, someone who can play with his back to goal but also get himself in the right position to finish off chances.
All three of the striker’s goals have been scored inside the penalty area with two being one-touch finishes.
As well as his two starts in cup matches he has also had three brief cameo appearances off the bench in the Premier League and his manager praised his shooting accuracy.
The striker has an impressive shooting accuracy and offers United a different attacking option
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been impressed with the 30-year-old and highlighted his impact
‘He had chances against Watford, he had a very good save against Everton – there have been good saves, he doesn’t miss the target very often.’
Four of Ighalo’s five shots against Derby hit the target and his record in China was also good with a shooting accuracy of 57.3 per cent in 2018. In comparison, Marcus Rashford’s was 48.2 and 31.7 in previous campaigns.
But it’s not just what he brings to the team on the pitch that United fans appreciate.
The forward’s love for the club and willingness to give everything is something that has been lacking in recent squads.
His signing even sparked street parties in his homeland as he became the first Nigerian to pull on the famous shirt.
After scoring his first United goal Ighalo told the club’s website he would ‘give his blood’ to get more opportunities.
‘This is what I dream of and what I dreamt of when I was a kid. Now it is in my hands so I have to fight for it. I will give my blood to get it.
The striker is also not afraid of wearing his heart on his sleeve and has promised to dedicate every goal he scores to his late sister who was also a United fan.
ODION IGHALO AT MANCHESTER UNITED
Shots on target: 8
There are still question marks over whether Rashord and Anthony Martial are strikers or wingers but there’s no uncertainty with Ighalo.
The loan deal for the striker does not include an option to buy but Solskjaer has already admitted he could extend his stay beyond the summer.
And with all domestic fixtures in China currently postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak, a permanent move away from the Super League could suit Ighalo.
The Nigerian was meant to be a temporary fix but it looks like he could have a big role to play for the remainder of this season and beyond.
The Nigerian says he will dedicate every goal he scores to his late sister who was a United fan
There could be more street parties in his homeland if his stay is extended beyond the summer
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