The signing of Odion Ighalo on January transfer deadline day was certainly one of the more surprising sights in recent times for Manchester United fans.
Although the Nigerian was a familiar name due to his time spent time in the Premier League with Watford, he had been in China for the past three years and like many footballers who make the journey to East Asia, he had become a forgotten figure in England.
Arriving on loan from Shanghai Shenhua, Ighalo was virtually identified in being a ‘free hit’. The 30-year-old was to provide as emergency cover for the injured Marcus Rashford, offering his services on a rotational basis, providing some balance in-between Anthony Martial and 18-year-old Mason Greenwood.
Fast forward four months and the deal has proved to be somewhat of a bargain – the Nigerian registered four goals and one assists in just three-hundred and eighteen minutes for the club. Not only has he delivered on the field, but the ability to rotate across the frontline has benefited the entire squad.
It is this latter factor which has highlighted the need for a more permanent striker– Martial has scored three goals in four Premier League games since Ighalo arrived, having been on a run of just one in five prior. The Frenchman has been heavily utilised as a starter since the departure of Romelu Lukaku this season and given the pragmatic management of the young Mason Greenwood, he has been very suspect to burnout from time to time.
Adding a new striker to the squad has granted the 24-year-old time to watch on from the sidelines, with Ighalo starting two Europa League games, plus the FA Cup away trip to Derby. This ability to rotate options has uncoincidentally coincided with United’s recent run of form – winning nine of their last eleven, remaining undefeated during this time.
Despite his positive impact though, it has been heavily reported that the Nigerian will leave at the end of this week, upon the official expiry of his loan deal. The Red Devils are hesitant to spend £20m on a 30-year-old, with recent speculation linking them to Josh King. Higher pedigree names like Timo Werner and Erling Haaland have popped up, but such lucrative spending will unlikely be distributed into this area of the squad, given the bigger priorities of Jadon Sancho and Jack Grealish.
Ighalo will be departing with a bigger legacy than most would have predicted upon his arrival, and he has highlighted the need for a new figure to fill the void he will be leaving behind. A stellar name is arguably not essential, but instead, a squad player capable of stepping up in the selective time he is called upon.