If you follow the ins and outs of Premier League football, you will be well aware that Manchester United have been a team in turmoil this season. It hasn’t been all bad, with the Red Devils gaining some fantastic results amid the poor ones. But each week seems to bring some new drama, new formations, and different players on the teamsheet. With pundits constantly pondering how United should line-up and play, one name that has rarely been touted as a solution is Odion Ighalo. The Nigerian has been all-but-forgotten at Old Trafford, and he is likely to be on his way out.
What a difference a year makes. In 2019, Ighalo was the top scorer at the Africa Cup of Nations. Earlier in the year, the striker claimed to have resisted overtures from Barcelona to focus on his career in China. But when a “dream” move to Manchester United became possible in January 2020, Ighalo couldn’t hide his pleasure. Things started well for Ighalo, who scored a goal on his first full debut in the Europa League. All in all, he has scored five goals for United in 22 appearances. That might not seem so prolific, but he has rarely started games, more-often-than-not coming on in the final few minutes.
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Ighalo is failing to make matchday squads
This season, even as United struggled, Ighalo’s chances have been limited to a few minutes in the Premier League and a start in the EFL Cup, which is the competition at the very bottom of United’s priorities. Ighalo’s loan deal is up on 30th January 2021, and it seems unlikely that United will extend it. He comes fifth in the pecking order of United’s strikers behind Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood, and Edinson Cavani.
The man himself has been philosophical on the matter, recently saying that “That smile will never cease” in reference to his time at Old Trafford. He knows that it was always going to be difficult to establish at United, given the club’s inexorable desire to have the world’s best players at its disposal.
United now betting longshots for the Premier League title
But it is a missed opportunity for Ighalo and, indeed, United? Despite the prowess of United’s forward quartet, they have, with the exception of Marcus Rashford, found it difficult to get goals. Ighalo will surely look at the record of Cavani (3 goals), Martial (2) and Greenwood (2) and believe that he could add a goal threat to the team. And United could do with a spark in attack to reinvigorate the season. Even at this early stage, Football bookmakers have made the Red Devils longshots and all but ruled out United winning the Premier League this season; a top 4 finish already looks difficult too even if United have improved in the Premier League of late.
Indeed, we could perhaps offer the slimmest of hopes to Ighalo by pointing to a strategy change in United’s line-up. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seems to have recognised that neither Rashford, Greenwood or Martial can play in the classic number nine role. All have struggled in that position, and all offer a bit more with their pace on the wings. That could mean Cavani is the man who takes up Ighalo’s natural position. Who knows what could happen if there is, for example, an injury to the Uruguayan?
All of that seems unlikely, though, and it’s almost certain that Ighalo returns to China after January. Perhaps if the circumstances were different – Ighalo’s hot start was derailed when the Premier League was postponed last spring – we could be looking at a better scenario now. But Ighalo will leave with his head held high. He will always be the first Nigerian to play for what is arguably the most famous sports team in the world.
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