Two starts, three goals and millions of new adoring fans. Even in his wildest dreams, Odion Ighalo would never have expected as good a start to life in Manchester United colours.
The former Watford marksman has rapidly developed into somewhat of a cult hero, with his name being bellowed around Old Trafford last night even before he had scored two goals. However, it is not his goals or his attacking prowess which makes him such a valuable signing, it is his attitude.
From his first day as United manager, Solskjaer has repeatedly endeavoured to complete a “cultural reset” at United. This was music to the ears of many fans across the world who had grown weary of the way in which United were operating, from signing mercenaries such as Angel Di Maria to handing out bumper contracts to Alexis Sanchez.
Ole’s idea of a “cultural reset” at United is exactly what is needed at the club and seems to have sparked visible cohesion and collaboration across different levels at United. After Ferguson’s departure, the club needed to unite towards a common goal and stick to what had brought them to such dizzying heights, with this cultural reset, United are finally back on the path to success.
There is perhaps no player in the entire Manchester United set-up who better personifies what Ole wants to do than Odion Ighalo. A free transfer from the Chinese Super League, Ighalo was initially viewed by many as an underwhelming signing in a depleted area in the team, however, when one looks at what Ighalo represents as a footballer, it is clear that it was much more of an astute acquisition than was first thought. The Nigerian ace, a boyhood United fan, a man who during his spell at Watford went on a fan tour of Old Trafford, who has long been quoted as wishing to play for United, Ighalo represents the exact profile that United should be and now are targeting.
For far too long post-Fergie, United have been preoccupied with statement signings rather than team cohesion. Personalities like Ighalo, who run themselves into the ground for the club and are visibly happy to be a Manchester United player are exactly the profile that the club needs. While Ighalo will not score 30 goals a season or individually propel United to the top of the table, the striker acts as an exact blueprint of what it used to take to be a United player, a blueprint which was lost after the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson.
This cultural reset, which Ole is so eager to remind United fans of, is also evident through other acquisitions, Bruno Fernandes for example, who is visibly thrilled to don the United shirt and regards United as the “biggest club in the world” is more proof of the profiling of players at United.
However, it is also extremely important not to dismiss Ighalo’s abilities and to regard him as merely a good story. The Nigerian won the Golden Boot at last years’ African Cup of Nations and boasts multiple 15 goal league campaigns in both the Premier League and in China. As he has shown already, he is not here simply to make up the numbers at United, he is here to push United on and offer an alternative in United’s pursuit of Champion’s League football.
This alternative playstyle that Ighalo brings also helps to improve United’s dynamism in attacking. While his striking counterpart Anthony Martial is a more silky option, playing off the shoulder, looking the ball in behind, Ighalo is a traditional number 9. He is strong, holds the ball up well and brings other players into the game, as his second goal last night highlights.
While further reinforcement is obviously needed to help propel United to the next level, Odion Ighalo represents what United have done right, and while it is impossible to field a competitive team full of players who bleed United red, the attitude and mindset which Ole is aiming to cultivate can be no better represented through anyone other than Odion Ighalo.