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Why have so few African players succeeded for Manchester United?

Odion Ighalo secured his dream move to Manchester United on the last day of the January transfer window, joining the team the Nigerian says he has supported since he was a child. However, Ighalo is not the only African to support the club, far from it. United have millions of fans around the world and the Manchester Evening News has reported that the latest figures have seen steady rises in Africa.

“People support Manchester United a lot back there in Nigeria, so I developed that love, because all of my siblings, they are Manchester United fans.”

Ighalo on how he began supporting United.

Despite followership increasing, fans in Africa do not have a player from their continent who has been seen as an iconic player in the red shirt. Although many will be hoping Ighalo does well, to the club he is only a short-term fix until the end of the season. Ighalo is the 7th African player to play for Manchester United and the rest of the list is far from glamorous.

The likes of Manucho, Wilfried Zaha, Eric Djemba-Djemba and Mame Biram Diouf have all been seen as disastrous flops and fans in Africa would not be forgiven for forgetting that these players were even at the club at all. These fans follow United for their illustrious history, but they have never had a player to represent them in the past like Didier Drogba or Yaya Toure, or even like what currently Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are doing in the Premier League for United’s rivals.

Of course, United do have an African player in their ranks in Eric Bailly, but his injury record since his first season has hampered his progress and has the Ivorian has not played a single game this season for the club. It’s likely that United may be looking to shift Bailly on in the summer and his time at the club might be coming to an end. In fact, in the last 11 months, he has played the same amount for his national team as he has for United, having played for the Ivory Coast in the African Cup of Nations.

It’s worth wondering whether the club are reluctant to sign African players because of the African Cup of Nations taking place in the middle of the season every two years. The likes of Kalidou Koulibaly, Hakim Ziyech and Thomas Partey have all been linked with the club in recent transfer windows, all in areas where the Reds need strengthening, but no moves have materialised.

These players would most likely prefer to represent their country as it is such a big honour for them and this would leave the club with a headache of players not being able to play in one of the most congested months of the season.

One player who has succeed from Africa is the man who used to wear Odion Ighalo’s new shirt number, 25. South African Quinton Fortune joined after the Treble success of 1999 and lasted seven years before leaving in 2006. Fortune was a key player for Ferguson to fill in at full back and in midfield in crucial games, especially when the Scot was rebuilding his next great team between 2003 and 2005. After retiring, Fortune was a regular pundit on MUTV and last year became a coach of the U23 side alongside Neil Wood.

Fortune is the biggest African icon United have had but now Ighalo has a chance in the coming months to potentially outdo his legacy by scoring the goals that would land a place in the UEFA Champions League. If he were to succeed then potentially he could be the start of more African players joining the club and following their dream to play in the Premier League for United.

Written by Alex Metcalfe

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