Odion Jude Ighalo has a blockbuster of an autobiography on his hands.
When the Nigerian gets around penning his life story the chapter devoted to his time at Manchester United will make for fascinating reading.
Right from the moment all his dreams came true when he signed for his boyhood club on deadline day – January 31 – to proving the naysayers wrong and turning himself into a cult hero at Old Trafford inside eight appearances and just over 350 minutes on the pitch.
Then came the shattering realisation that the move he thought would never happen and the chance that he thought would never arrive might be over just as it had got going.
Ighalo’s four-month loan spell threatened to amount to just 25 days from first game to last, but Monday’s confirmation that his temporary move has been extended meant he was all smiles arriving at Carrington. Not only will he see out this season with United, but he’ll probably be involved in a good chunk of the 2020/21 campaign as well before returning to China at the end of January.
Such has been his impact in a short space of time that news was greeted with delight amongst United fans and the 30-year-old will clearly have a role to play between now and his return to Shanghai Shenhua for the 2021 Chinese Super League season.
The former Super Eagles forward has been a valuable impact sub in the Premier League and a reliable stand-in in the FA Cup and Europa League, taking the pressure and the strain off Anthony Martial, who has benefited as a result, scoring four goals in five starts since Ighalo’s arrival.
Ighalo’s extension might well have worked out perfectly for United, who can now ease back on the need to sign a striker in this summer’s transfer window.
While the dates for that window and for next season remain unclear, given this campaign isn’t going to end until August, you would expect the end of January next year to be around the midway point, at least, of 2020/21.
So, having a back-up striker who is already settled at the club and has proved his mettle has to be an awesome piece of news. It allows Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to focus on other areas when the transfer window does open, namely prising Jadon Sancho away from Borussia Dortmund and attempting to sign Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish.
United are in the market for three new additions, but this is going to be a transfer window like no other, almost certainly condensed in length and with less activity than for many a year, given the perilous state of some clubs’ finances since the coronavirus pandemic forced the sport to shut its doors for three months.
Ighalo’s impact has proved that a back-up striker is a must in Solskjaer’s squad, but by securing a deal with Shanghai Shenhua to keep him until January it has eased the burden on what could already be a busy window.
It also gives United more time to allow Mason Greenwood to develop without exerting pressure on the striking prodigy. The 18-year-old has scored 12 goals this season and is averaging 0.6 goals per 90 minutes, which is a remarkable record for a teenager.
The academy graduate, already hailed as the best finisher at the club by Solskjaer, looks destined for the top. By next January he will be three months into his 19th year and will have had more first-team opportunities. It might well be that he is ready to be Martial’s understudy by then, allowing United to pursue another versatile forward to offer options centrally and out wide.
It will certainly give United valuable time to weigh up their options. If Greenwood’s development has stalled then it could be time to consider a more ambitious move, such as Timo Werner if he remains at RB Leipzig, although a move to Liverpool this summer remains likely, or Lyon’s Moussa Dembele.
But for now, having a player such as Ighalo, who at 30 and living a dream he never expected is perfectly happy to be a valued squad player rather than a starter every week, is the ideal solution for United.
If the Nigerian can continue to impact games in the way he has done so far, and Greenwood can continue his own rapid progress then it might well be that United have found the perfect solution to assembling their ideal squad of strikers.
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Manchester Evening News