Manchester United have announced the loan signing of Nigerian striker Odion Ighalo for the remainder of the season. This has been greeted with a lot of negativity because it is a sidestep from the rebuilding process. Admittedly it is, but it is also a temporary measure. United needed a striker, this was imperative for the club to achieve. There were links to Edinson Cavani, Willian Jose and Joshua King heading into transfer deadline day also with more attention on Cavani than the other two.
The thing is, it is a low risk signing. United will obviously pay a loan fee to have the player on their books for the remainder of the season and will pay a proportion of the players wages at his parent club, Shanghai Shenhua – other than that, the risk is low. If the player suffers an injury, the player will obviously head back to China, if it is ruled serious enough. Obviously, nobody wants this to happen, serious supporters anyway. Ighalo is a professional player with experience, a much-needed quality.
United lack a straight forward striker this season. Romelu Lukaku did not fit that mould either, in my opinion. He scored a fair few goals for United, but his first touch was poor and he never really had that predatory instinct a striker needs. He just did not fit into United’s squad and didn’t see himself there either, which is why he asked to leave, signing for Inter Milan instead. Not everything is guaranteed to work out in football, if it was guaranteed, it would not work at all.
With the injury to Marcus Rashford, which will keep him on the sidelines for a number of months, United lack attacking options. Anthony Martial is not the striker that people think he is, which is something that has been holding the club back, however, thinking about that, the lack of creativity could have been something that was stopping Martial from scoring, so with the arrival of Bruno Fernandes from Sporting Clube de Portugal during the week, in the coming weeks and months, that might change.
With United needing a striker, many supporters seemed to be affixed to Cavani of Paris Saint-Germain. It was reported that he was available for around €20 million during the January transfer window. He’s a decent striker, or has been, and has a great level of experience. However, he seemingly wanted to sign for Atletico Madrid and that club were the main source of attention for him. It is great that United supporters said he was available, but the fact he’s remained at PSG is telling.
The player will sign for Atletico on the expiry of his contract at the end of the season, leaving for a free. That does not suggest that he would have signed for United, if they came calling. The fee was relatively small but the weekly wage would have been problematic as he would have demanded more than £250,000 and based on the number of goals he has scored for PSG this season; five in 14 appearances, another high earner is not what the club needed.
Erling Haaland was another player linked to the club. He ended up signing for Borussia Dortmund for £18 million. He started his time in Germany well, scoring seven goals in his first three matches which has made supporters suggest it was a mistake not to sign the player. However, the player has a £63 million release clause in his contract which cannot be triggered until 2022 but United do not tend to go for players who want release clauses in their contract – the lack of security there is telling.
Imagine United signing Haaland, him playing well and scoring goal after goal, improving match after match and becoming a fan favourite at the club. Then, two years later, his release clause, which was high at the time he signed, at least three times the fee paid for the player, but in terms of ability and success at scoring, sees his release clause being a relative bargain for a club with £63 million to spend on a striker. That would not be good business.
Obviously, United could start discussion for a new contract, raising the release clause, but there is no guarantee that they would get what they wanted with Mino Raiola, although no the player’s agent, being involved there. It would be like losing Cristiano Ronaldo once again. He sold for £80 million in the summer of 2009 and based on what he achieved, the commercial aspect of his achievements and everything else, United were robbed back then. It is good that the club distanced themselves from what could be seen as another mistake.
There is nothing stopping United from trying to sign Haaland in 2022, if he continues growing as a player and becomes a world class player. Of course, there would be a lot of interest in him and no guarantee. United want to build a team that could stay together for a decade or more, achieving as much as possible. If they become a selling club that signs players with relatively low release clauses, where is the security? A quick fix solution was Ighalo. Not world class, may not be ideal but a quick fix nonetheless.
Ighalo started his career in Nigeria, playing for both Prime and Julius Berger. In 2007, he signed for Norwegian side Lyn, leaving the following year for Udinese. Not making a mark in Italy at the time, Ighalo was loaned to Granada for the 2009/10 season, then Cesena (in Italy) for half the following season, signing for Granada for three-and-a-half seasons on loan. He then moved to Watford, initially on loan in the Championship during the 2014/15 season, where they earned promotion to the Premier League.
The Nigerian then played two seasons in the Premier League for Watford and during that time was a transfer target for Louis van Gaal at one point. Up to and including his time at Watford, Ighalo had scored a total of 68 goals in 223 appearances for seven different clubs. In 2017, the Nigerian signed for Chinese Super League club Changchun Yatai, where he played for two seasons, playing 55 times, scoring 36 goals. In 2019, he signed for Shanghai Shenhua, staying in China, so far playing 19 times, scoring 10 goals.
There is a suggestion in the media that Ighalo will not have a medical at the club before completing his transfer and that he is fully fit to play. The earliest he could play will be against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League on Monday 17 February 2020, followed by the UEFA Europa League clash away to Club Brugge on Thursday 20 February. His first match at Old Trafford would come against former club, Watford on Sunday 23 February. Speaking about Ighalo, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said:
“Odion [Ighalo] 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.
“A great lad and very professional, he will make the most of his time here.”
Ighalo has made no official statement about joining United yet. It is not yet known when he will join up with the squad. However, speaking back in 2016, declaring that he was a boyhood supporter of the Old Trafford club, the Nigerian said:
“They were my team growing up.I loved watching Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke on TV. They were my idols and playing at Old Trafford has always been a dream.“
I look forward to seeing what he can do for United. I will reserve my judgement after I have seen him play for the club. Looking back at his time at Watford, he knew how to score a goal or two. Granted, he is older now but strikers do not lose their instinct at a certain age. I am sure he will give his all for the club he supported as a child. Best of luck to him.