THE UNEXPECTED signing of Odion Ighalo by Manchester United on loan in January raised more than a few sets a lot of eyebrows. Those eyebrows are now as steady as the Nigerian striker has made an immediate mark at Old Trafford with four goals in just eight appearances.
The former Watford ace, who was plying his trade in China before the shock call from the management at OT, has been such an early hit that United’s end of season, coronavirus permitting, could be a success with a Champions League berth and Europa League success real possibilities.
“Of course I think it helps that he is a United fan”Efan Ekoku
The African’s positive start has surely been helped by the fact that Ighalo is a life-long Manchester United fan since he was a kid in Ajegunle, Lagos.
United desperately needed a striker, especially with Marcus Rashford injured and with both Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez shipped out to Inter Milan.
Ighalo, 30, fitted the bill as a short-term loan solution.
Though he was not their first choice, call it fate or destiny, Ighalo was not going to pass up his chance when United came calling.
Critics suggested – rightly or wrongly – United were desperate and their recruitment policy was called into question.
However the one thing conveniently forgotten was that Ighalo has pedigree and the experience of playing in the Premier League with Watford when he formed a lethal partnership with Troy Deeney
In his 82 games for the club, Ighalo scored 33 goals, which is a more than decent return. He was also part of the team that reached the FA Cup semi final in 2016.
Though Ighalo was playing in China when United came calling, it must be pointed out that he was top scorer at the 2019 Nations Cup.
His style of play is robust and he certainly is different to any striker United have had in recent times..
Efan Ekoku was the first Nigerian to play in the Premier League and knows a thing or about what is required to score in the toughest league in the world.
Of his compatriot at Old Trafford he told the Voice of Sport: “I have always liked his style. I am not surprised by what he is doing.
“He has been here before with Watford. He started off successfully, he did not quite finish off well. He has showed he can play in England. He has the characteristics.
“He has come back to a league he knows well playing with better players. There is no reason why he should not continue to show his qualities, which is what has happened.
“I was surprised his name was being touted because he seemed so far off the radar. When guys go to China it is not often that they come back to Europe, let’s be honest. “Or if they do it is less likely they come back to one of the bigger clubs in the world. So that was a surprise.
“I think this is because Manchester United generally have had a scattergun approach to recruitment over the last few years. Nobody has ever quite known what they are looking for.
“The Ighalo move took everyone by surprise but then after digesting it for a day a two I thought United need some kind of presence in their forward line. Even if Rashford was fit he is a different profile and so is Martial.
“They need somebody who is more robust and experienced with their back to goal and Odion is a clever person who can play that way.
“Neither Martial or Rashford can play that way. It was just a question of whether he (Ighalo) was fit enough, sharp enough or if he could get up to speed quickly. He has proven everyone wrong. He looks comfortable playing in the Premier League. “In the cup matches so far he has shown to be a good purchase.”
When asked if Ighalo was the kind of player the likes of Rashford, Martial and other young players could learn, Ekoku, now a respected broadcaster, added: “It is difficult for young guys to appreciate that role when they are young. They just want to play that role the way they think will impress everyone around them.
“Young kids just want to cut inside and score. Or course they can learn from him. In terms of improving their all round play that is a combination of watching the player and also for the coaching staff to say this is what he is doing and this is why we brought him into the team.
“The club would not want to make a direct comparison but slowly integrate one or two things into the players. He has been bought to challenge the strikers.
“If he scores a few more goals the likes of Rashford should not expect to walk straight back into the side. You will seen that in the last four weeks Martial’s level of play has improved because he has a challenger.
“Of course I think it helps that he is a United fan. Ighalo is playing his heart out. This is his one chance to play for one of the biggest clubs in the world. There is a chance he could extend his deal.”
With his move to United, Ighalo has become the first Nigerian ever to play for the famous club. Ekoku is of the opinion that the landmark have given his country man an extra boost.
“That is a big thing for him. It is also good for the profile of Nigerian football. It is nice to tick that box. Who is left? Madrid? We have had one play for Barcelona in the past.”