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Odion Ighalo: Fulfilling a fan’s dream

Odion Ighalo fulfilled his lifelong dream of playing for the club he supported since his childhood when he joined Manchester United on the 31st of January 2020 on loan until the end of the season.

The Nigerian international had been plying his trade with Shanghai Shenhua since February 2019 scoring an impressive 10 goals in 19 appearances for the Chinese Super League club. Ighalo is best remembered by United fans for his stint with Watford between 2014 and 2017 where he developed a formidable striker partnership with club captain Troy Deeney for the Hornets. He hit the ground running in the Premier League scoring 15 goals as the Hornets successfully avoided the drop despite being favourites to go down to the Championship. The Nigerian’s form dropped during his third season at Vicarage Road only scoring twice in nineteen appearances before joining Chinese Super League club Changchun Yatai in the 2017 January transfer window.

The Red Devils were seeking attacking reinforcements in the January transfer market after top striker Marcus Rasford sustained a double back stress fracture which ruled him out for three-four months. United were linked with potential moves for Wolves’ talisman Raul Jimenez, Paris Saint-Germain’s Edison Cavani and Southampton’s Danny Ings. However, all three players were integral to their club’s targets and ambitions for the season so were unavailable for transfer. Later into the transfer window as United were desperately trying to add to their depleted squad some surprise names began to crop up as the transfer deadline edged ever closer. Manchester United’s executive vice chairman Ed Woodward reportedly enquired about loan deals for Leicester City’s forgotten man Islam Slimani and former United academy star Jason King from Bournemouth in the closing days of the transfer window.

However, after successful negotiations on deadline day, Odion Ighalo arrived at Old Trafford on a short term deal to provide some strength in depth to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United squad. United boss Solskjaer stated (via the Evening Standard): “Odion is an experienced player. He will come in and give us an option of a different type of centre-forward for the short spell he’s staying with us. He’s a great lad and very professional, he will make the most of his time here at the club. It gives us a chance to rest Mason (Greenwood) and Anthony (Martial) at times. We want to go far in the Europa League, F.A Cup. It was important we have another type of striker to use. Marcus (Rashford) is out for a little while and with him back we’re a different team.”

Ighalo was integrated slowly into the squad as a precautionary measure due to the on-going fears over the COVID-19 outbreak in China. There is no suggestion Ighalo contracted COVID-19 as he was free to mix with the general public but the club felt it would be better if the striker stayed away from Carrington for a fortnight just to be certain and to protect staff/players. 

The Nigerian striker made his much anticipated Manchester United debut in their 2-0 victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge replacing Anthony Martial as a substitute. After three brief substitute appearances he made his full debut for the Red Devils in the Europa League round of 32 second leg against Club Brugge scoring his first goal for the club in a 5-0 home victory. United fans instantly took to the Nigerian international with him quickly becoming a fan favourite for his selfless displays, important goals and his pure excitement to be playing for his boyhood club. He continued his excellent form with his first brace for the club in the FA Cup as United beat Derby County 3-0. 

Ighalo impressed Solskjaer and his coaching staff filling the void in the absence of star striker Marcus Rashford whilst also allowing Mason Greenwood and Anthony Martial the opportunity to be rested. The Nigerian scored his fifth and last goal for the club in Manchester United’s final game against LASK in the Europa League before the suspension of football due to the Covid-19 global pandemic. Ighalo put the Red Devils 1-0 up in Austria scoring a superb half-volley which flew into the top corner. 

Professional football in England seized for 110 days which meant Ighalo’s loan would expire before the resumption of the season due to the loan expiring at the end of May 2020. United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had been impressed with the Nigerian’s performances and attitude during his short term at the club and on the 1st of June 2020 Manchester United announced that Ighalo’s loan deal had been extended until the 30th January 2021.

Upon the resumption of “Project Restart” and Marcus Rashford’s return to full fitness, Ighalo’s appearances were limited to sporadic cup competitions and late cameos in the Premier League. The Nigerian provided cover to the Red Devils when Solskjaer was reliant on him and played his part in United reaching three successive semi-finals despite reaching a final. He contributed five goals in 19 appearances in all appearances during the 2019/20 season proving to be a different attacking option for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United off the bench. The arrival of veteran world-class striker Edison Cavani as a free agent in the summer transfer market added to the deadly trio of Greenwood, Rashford and Martial in attack for the Red Devils.

United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has used Odion Ighalo sparingly this season with the Nigerian only making four appearances in the first half of the season. The boyhood Manchester United fan made 23 appearances and scored five goals for the Red Devils during his year at Old Trafford and fulfilled every fan’s dream.

All the best Odion, you’ll always be welcome back at Old Trafford.

Read more: Manchester United squad v Sheffield United

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