By Preye Campbell
Barring any unforeseen circumstance, Odion Jude Ighalo will become a Shanghai Shenhua player at the end of the week.
This comes as his loan deal with the Red half of Manchester expires at the end of May.
With Odion Ighalo, we have come to the familiarity of his Cinderella story; Boyhood fan comes to a team right in the middle of a striker crisis. Received so much criticism than Loris Karius’ howler at the Champions League final (2018) because he was simply not your type of striker. Moreso, he came from the Chinese league having previously been more of an underachiever in his previous spell in England. The stakes were just too high and the stage was just too big for a player like the Ajegunle born and for a club like Manchester United. 356 minutes of footballing action, four goals in three starts, six wins and two draws later, Odion Ighalo owned the Theatre of Dreams.
With his presence in a United team lacking the talismanic efforts of Marcus Rashford, Ighalo proved more than an adequate back-up with his performances in Cup games and especially United’s last league game against noisy neighbours, City. How he didn’t score against Chelsea and Everton in the Premier League remains a mystery.
But one thing is (or ‘was’. depending on what happens at the end of May) clear to me: Manchester United need Ighalo.
Ighalo’s major impact at Old Trafford for me has tweaked the club’s transfer plan. Ighalo’s is a case of a Watermelon; you do not know how good it is until you cut it and see. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the United hierarchy have now seen that getting the services of a top striker in the summer remains a priority. Jadon Sancho is reportedly United’s no. 1 transfer target. Since he plays on the right wing, there is much room for an out-and-out striker to come in. We have already seen the uncertainty in sharing United’s goal burden with Rashford and Frenchman, Anthony Martial.
While both have had a considerably good season in front of goal, Solskjaer cannot deny the idea of getting another forward, since Mason Greenwood is still given time to develop.
Ighalo was the perfect blueprint for United’s next transfer business and he even ticked all the right boxes; adequate cover for the injured Rashford, able to play Cup games so that Martial can be eased of goal burdens and not in anyway a hurdle to young Greenwood.
Ighalo is not your modern day kind of striker. He probably will not make the top ten strikers on your list but he fits United’s game and his hold-up play and physicality will only make for a sharper United attack. We have seen games this season where Martial was frequently bullied by opponents’ defence or where Rashford was quickly closed down on the left before he could cut back and shoot.
I strongly believe that should Ighalo leave, certain things could go awry for United.
First, we can think of the fact that United won’t get a world class or near-world class striker for a chicken fee. If we are not talking triple figures, then we are looking above sixty million pounds to say the least.
Now, you don’t buy such player for such amount only to throw him on the bench. You want every value of your money spent on the field and not off it. In such situation, Martial is likely to see less playing time and Greenwood could be relegated to U-23 games.
Ighalo is always happy to start from the bench and he will make for a useful rotation without harming Rashford and Martial. And after his impressive records for United, do we still need to ask ourselves what he can bring to the club?
For the manager, Solskjaer, this is a delicate issue to ponder on.
Shenhua have made it clear they want their player back. But Solskjaer should know by now just what the positives will be in keeping a player of Ighalo’s calibre.
At the moment, he just might be the most important player at the Theatre of Dreams.