Ask any Manchester United fan about the post-Fergie era and chances are they’ll either attack you or start crying on your shoulder.
When Manchester United lost the league to their City rivals in the dying seconds of the 2011-12 season, it was not on points but on goal difference that they lost out by a miniscule margin.
United, who were lucky enough to still have the greatest manager of all time at the helm, knew that they would need a quick fix in order to return to their perch as the champions of England the following season.
So the gulf was small, the question was goal-scoring and the answer for Sir Alex Ferguson was Robin van Persie. The flying Dutchman finished the 2012-13 season as top goal-scorer with 26 league goals and a coveted Premier League medal.
Since then, United have only once come as close as second in the league in 2018 when they finished 19 points behind Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
If Odion Ighalo can be the catalyst that fires Manchester United back into the top four this season, then his impact on the club could be even greater than Van Persie’s.
1. Both of these men were born to score goals
While Robin van Persie’s prolific Premier League goal-scoring prowess is not to be questioned, Ighalo amassing nearly 40 goals across three seasons in a poor Watford team before departing for China must also be considered highly impressive.
Albeit in a much poorer league, Ighalo has continued to do the business in China. He scored 21 goals in a team that were relegated in his first season.
If United can have Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba playing him through balls with the pace of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial or Dan James or Mason Greenwood on the flanks, his potential goal threat is massive.
2. The gap now is bigger than it was then
The gap that Van Persie was brought in to close was a minimal one. Fast forward seven and a half years and the prize may have been downsized to a top-four finish, but the gap is wider and therefore the task is much bigger.
Considering how United have performed this year under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the current state of the club, it would surprise even their own fans if they were to qualify for the top four this season. If Ighalo can hit the ground running then the task is not unachievable.
Although it could and should be more, the deficit is six points and this can be halved immediately in Ighalo’s first potential game away to Chelsea.
3. Should United not qualify for the top four, the implications could be greater than if they had not won the league in 2013
If United had not won the league in 2013, Sir Alex Ferguson would still have been able to retire with United on 19 titles, or more importantly for some fans, one more than Liverpool.
While the Scousers are beginning an assault on the record books, United have become a sacking club in a downward spiral who throw good money at bad and seem to lack any sort of shape, structure or identity.
If the rot cannot be stopped now, then where can they turn to next? If someone cannot save them now, then how far will they continue to free-fall?
4. Like Van Persie, every league goal Ighalo scores could carry a double value
In 2012, Man City wanted Van Persie, but he chose to give his goal-scoring talent to United and helped them to win the league over City.
In 2020, it has been well documented that Ighalo was one of Mourinho’s main targets to fill the void left by the injured Harry Kane but the transfer window closed without them being able to secure the services of a recognised striker.
If United are to make the top four, they will need Spurs to suffer a run dry in front of goal and what better way to influence this than to sign the man who was supposed to be their answer.
Take Ighalo’s potential goals away from Spurs and give his actual goals to United and the significance can be multiplied.
The only thing that could make reaching the top four sweeter for United would be the fact that a rival (and former manager) misses out.
5. A love of the Reds
Despite playing for rivals Arsenal for five seasons longer, Robin van Persie is definitely considered a club legend among the Old Trafford faithful.
Scoring so many goals in his first season – including the goal that sealed the 20th title – certainly helped, but it is believed that he started to earn the legend status in his first interview at the club when he claimed: “The little boy inside me was screaming for Manchester United”.
He was a fan of the club and it clearly meant more than money or medals for him to join up with Sir Alex at the Theatre of Dreams.
While Van Persie’s love for the club was declared retrospectively, Ighalo laid it all on the line at an earlier stage. A quick browse of the web will show you a picture of a youthful Odion Ighalo, presumably in his homeland of Nigeria, donning the blue Manchester United away kit of 2005. He also declared his allegiance in interviews.
So can Odion Jude Ighalo, a top Nigerian striker and a die-hard Man United fan, become a club legend like Robin van Persie?
I wouldn’t bet against him.