After a failing to bring Joshua King back to Old Trafford from Bournemouth in a deal worth £25 (A$49) million that collapsed with mere hours to go in the January transfer window, Manchester United fans’ hopes of getting a deal over the line for a number nine looked dead and buried.
However, with just minutes left in the window, Shanghai Greenland Shenhua striker and lifelong Manchester fan Odion Ighalo was signed on a six-month loan deal, which split many fans of the club.
Some were just glad that United had found a traditional striker to fill the void left by the departure of Romelu Lukaku to Inter Milan in the summer, which would now allow Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford to play in their more natural positions on the wing.
Another reason for United fans to be hopeful in the Nigerian attacker is his supposed love of the club from a young age, as pictures of Ighalo wearing a United kit as a boy have circulated around various social media platforms as the player described putting on the Red Devils’ shirt as a “dream come true”.
However, there has also been a large amount of negativity towards the signing. Many Manchester United fans believe the signing will just paper over the cracks of what is presumed to be a very underwhelming and under-skilled squad.
Others point to his last season in the Premier League with Watford, as he scored only one goal in 18 appearances for the Hornets before a January deadline day move to CSL club worth £20 (A$39) million, their record sale at the time. Some have gone as far to say that he is not fit to wear the shirt, and that his transfer is a testament to how far the club have fallen since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013.
Many opinions have been shared about his arrival, but what impact will he have in his six-month spell at the club? He has spent almost a month training away from the squad as a precautionary measure since his arrival from China due to ongoing fears regarding the deadly Coronavirus. But he has made his first appearance for the club, coming on in the 90th minute as United beat Frank Lampard’s Chelsea 2-0 in a game dominated by controversial VAR decisions. He was unable to make an instant impact on the game as he failed to do anything of any substance but looked lively and positive in the few minutes he was on.
However, his stats over the last few years suggest that he could have an impact on this struggling United side, who are in need of a consistent striker. His last three seasons in the CSL mustered an impressive total of 46 goals and nine assists at a rate of 133 minutes per goal.
In his last full Premier League season, he was equal seventh top goal-scorer with 16 goals in 37 appearances, more than any other United player that season. He also finished the African Cup of Nations competition with the golden boot, as he blasted five goals in as many games as Nigeria, as well as one assist, as the East African nation ultimately finished third overall. He achieved this feat in a tournament featuring the likes of Liverpool strike partners Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah as well as other Premier League stars like Wilfried Zaha.
There is little doubt that his stats over the past few seasons in both China and in international football confirm him to be a goal threat, but can he offer United anything more in their attack? The short answer is no. He is renowned as a goal poacher and contributes very little outside of being a goal threat.
He has never averaged over 20 passes per game in his career. He even averages fewer passes per game than Lukaku during his stint at United – a player who was renowned by fans as being an extremely one-dimensional footballer during his time at the club. He is also yet to register an average of over three shots per game outside of China, with new attacking midfielder Bruno Fernandes averaging more shots per game over his career than the Nigerian striker.
However, he can’t be described as wasteful with his shots, as 1.8 of his 2.4 shots per game come from inside the penalty area, also scoring 0.3 of his 0.4 goals per game in the 18-yard box, with 0.1 coming in the six-yard box and zero coming from outside the box. He has never in his career scored a goal from outside the box, a rare feat for attackers playing at such a high level. However, his 0.4 goals per game is still the best in the current United squad, with only Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford – who both boast 0.3 goals per game – coming close to his rate across their respective careers.
So what do United actually have? Unfortunately for Devils fans, Odion Ighalo is not the world-class superstar to save United’s season. His stats show he is a capable player and an improvement to Manchester United’s injury-hit attack. However, they are not at an outstanding level that some fans demand from their players.
His ability to score goals is not in question, but his ability to improve how the team plays is in doubt as he is yet to show any signs throughout his career that he can transition into a fluid and creative centre forward rather than an old-school, traditional number nine.