Odion Jude Ighalo made football history in both Manchester United and Nigeria when he became the first Nigerian to play for the Manchester club and the 200th player to wear the Red jersey of the great Manchester United, since the creation of the club 142 years ago.
Nicknamed “the Red Devils”, the club was founded as Newton Heath LYR Football Club in 1878, changed its name to Manchester United in 1902 and moved to its current stadium, Old Trafford, in 1910. Odion Ighalo is now a part of this exotic, legendary history
The ex-Nigeria international made his Red Devils bow against old rivals Chelsea football club following his cameo appearance at Stamford Bridge on Monday, 17th February, 2020.
With Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men leading 2-0 at Stamford Bridge, Ighalo was introduced as a 90th minute substitute for Anthony Martial. And minutes after his introduction, the former Watford attacker had a chance to stretch Manchester United’s lead but his effort was saved by goalkeeper Willy Caballero.
And so, 15 years after football fans witnessed the collapse of John Mikel Obi’s transfer to Manchester United, after the midfielder and former Super Eagles skipper had reneged on a pre-contract agreement which he signed with the Old Trafford outfit in 2005, from Norwegian side Lyn Oslo, preferring Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea instead, Nigerians finally got the chance to see one their own become a Red Devil.
At 30, Odion Ighalo becomes the first Super Eagle to move to Old Trafford and ironically, play his first game in a well deserved win against the same Chelsea that denied Nigeria the opportunity to have its first Red Devils Mancunian in 2005.
Manchester United signed the former Watford striker Odion Ighalo, who left Watford for a move to China in 2017, from Shanghai Shenhua on loan until the end of the season.
The deal to bring the 30-year-old Nigeria international to Old Trafford initially contained no option to buy,but recent reports suggest that the conditions may become more favourable if Ighalo does well during his loan spell.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who gave strong hints of this expectation and expects Ighalo to impress for Manchester United between now and the end of the season, says there’s every possibility that the Nigerian stiker could still sign a permanent deal with the club of his boyhood dreams.
“It’s a loan, but when you’re in the door and if you impress it gives you a chance. That’s exactly the same for everyone who signs if it’s permanent or it’s a loan,” Solskjaer said.
‘If you impress as a player, if you impress as a person, if you can help this group improve, then of course there’s a chance that we’ll look at extending things.
‘That doesn’t just go for Odion, but since you asked, yes, of course his incentive is to play as well as he can. And it’s up to us to make sure that he’d want to stay if we wanted him.
“Odion is an experienced player. He will 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.
‘I think he’s probably pinching himself at times, because he’s now at his favourite club at the age of 30,” Solskjaer said.
Ighalo moved to the Chinese Super League in 2017, first with Changchun Yatai. After two seasons he moved to Shanghai Shenhua and scored 10 times in 19 games. He is United’s first senior loan signing since Radamel Falcao’s arrival from Monaco in 2014.
The move was done to cover the short-term injury to England international Rashford, 22, who is out with a stress fracture in his back sustained after coming on as a substitute during the FA Cup third-round replay win against Wolves on 15 January.
Back in 2015 after Watford’s promotion from the Championship, Ighalo was asked where he was most looking forward to playing in his first Premier League season.
No hesitation: “Old Trafford. It’ll be a dream come true to play against Manchester United, the team I supported in my youth”. Little did he know what would happen almost five years later.
Barcelona tried to sign him just 12 months ago because they wanted that type of player. He turned them down.
He is a very strong character, too. The Nigerian got a lot of criticism back home after missing chances when the Super Eagles were knocked out by Argentina at the last World Cup (including abuse aimed at his family) but he came back stronger to finish top scorer not only in Africa Cup of Nations qualifying but also at the tournament itself, ahead of the likes of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Riyad Mahrez.
Ighalo’s proven in the Premier League and will be able to hit the ground running, fitness permitting. He’ll also be a very popular team-mate who will give his all to be a success at United. Nobody will work harder.
It’s almost like a homecoming, too, as Ighalo’s family has been based in Manchester. It’s a fairytale move for the United fan from Lagos. Now let’s see if, not for the first time in his career, he can prove the doubters wrong.
Many expected him to fade away in Asia after leaving Watford for Chinese Super League (CSL) club Changchun Yatai. But his pace, instinctive finish and ability to find space has helped him to relative success in China
Ighalo finished as the 2018 CSL’s second-top scorer with 21 goals and despite an injury-hit season he scored 10 goals in 17 appearances for new club Shanghai Shenhua in 2019, helping them to FA Cup success.
Manchester United has a huge fan base in Nigeria and many believe Ighalo will be a success at Old Trafford and though, having retired from international football on a high in 2019, may still be persuaded to play for his country again, if he performs well in Manchester United.