On 31 January 2020, Manchester United completed the loan signing of Odion Ighalo from Chinese Super League Shanghai Greenland Shenhua for the remainder of the season.
The deal was met with some confusion by supporters at first, with the 30-year-old disappearing off the radar when he moved to Asian in 2017 after scoring just one goal in his last 18 Premier League appearances with Watford.
It was deemed as a desperate signing as a replacement for Marcus Rashford’s long-term injury having missed out on Erling Haaland to Borussia Dortmund the previous month.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer still had Anthony Martial and teenager Mason Greenwood on the books, but the French forward has struggled for fitness at times during his time at Old Trafford, whilst Greenwood has still yet to establish himself as a regular in the first team.
Ighalo’s position therefore was initially little more than a squad player to make sure we could fulfill the starting lineup should Martial or Greenwood be injured or suspended, as well as being able to rotate. And rotate is exactly the opportunity the Nigerian striker has taken to shine.
His debut for us came in the closing seconds of the 2-0 win away to Chelsea in the Premier League in mid-February. Despite only being on the field for a matter of moments, Ighalo still managed to get himself in a one-on-one position only to be denied by Willy Caballero. Likely a result of a lack of match fitness given that he was recovering from an injury when we loaned him.
Three days later the striker was handed the final 23 minutes of the 1-1 draw away to Club Brugge in our Europa League Round of 32 first leg. He barely got a touch of the ball in Belgium but was still able to get one shot away, albeit failing to test Simon Mignolet in the opposition’s goal.
Odion Ighalo’s first game at Old Trafford came in the final 10 minutes of our 3-0 thrashing over his former club, Watford, in the Premier League before his first start came four days later. Ole named the January loanee in the starting XI against Club Brugge in the Europa League to give Anthony Martial a rest. He repaid his manager in the first half by netting his Manchester United goal to make it 2-0 to put the tie beyond Brugge and help book our place into the next round.
Perhaps his best performance to date came the following Thursday when he was handed his second start and this time scored a brace in the 3-0 thrashing of Derby County in the FA Cup at Pride Park at the beginning of March. His first strike showed great strength and persistence in digging the ball out from under his feet to squeeze into the bottom corner and give us a 1-0 lead on the way to a comfortable victory.
Even though he only came on for the final couple of minutes in the 2-0 win in the derby, Odion Ighalo made a positive impact. The score was 1-0 at the time as he held the ball up and brought teammates into play, whilst also closing down Ederson and the Manchester City defence from the front.
On Thursday night, Ighalo scored his fourth Manchester United goal in only his third start. A sublime juggle and powerful finish from 18 yards gave us a 1-0 lead away to LASK in our Europa League Round of 16 first leg before we ran out comfortable 5-0 winners in the end.
So, the question is, should Manchester United sign Odion Ighalo on a permanent basis over the summer? He will have turned 31 before the start of next season and we will have Marcus Rashford back from injury. Mason Greenwood will be a year older and Anthony Martial could have scored a few more goals between now and then.
How much Shanghai value their player at will also have an impact on whether Ole and the Manchester United board make an offer, but I think there’s a bigger decision that will have the ultimate say in whether we sign Odion Ighalo or not. And that is Timo Werner.
The German international could be on his way out of RB Leipzig this summer and we have been strongly linked to the hitman for a while now. Naturally, we’ll face stiff competition, with Liverpool and Manchester City also strongly linked with the 24-year-old. You can expect Bayern Munich and other leading European clubs to join in on the chase too.
Odion Ighalo won’t be our main transfer target over the summer but I think we will sign him on a permanent basis if our other targets don’t prove fruitful…