Odion Ighalo has become an unfortunate figure over the past couple of months at Manchester United.
The arrival of Edinson Cavani essentially sealed his fate as surplus to requirements. But it was already trending this way beforehand.
Ighalo has not started a game since August, and he has not started a single Premier League match since signing for the club.
Even in the Europa League semi-final with United needing a goal, Ighalo was an afterthought and made it onto the pitch only for injury time.
Even last night against Istanbul with United cruising to a win, there was no call for Ighalo to get a few minutes.
So at this point Ighalo is just winding down time until his loan expires at the end of January.
There may be a late goal or two, perhaps, but he needs to make the bench first, and at present he cannot even do that for league games.
It has led to some discussion among fans and non-fans about how the extension has been one of the worst deals United have made in recent years, especially considering the wages he is earning. Ighalo is getting £100,000 a week right now, to watch games and often not even make the bench.
It’s hard to argue that it is not a superfluous waste of money. United’s board get a lot wrong, and deserve most of the flak which comes their way. But you also have to consider the time at which United made the decision.
Go back to late May
Go back to late May for a moment and recall the situation United were in.
Marcus Rashford had been out for four months with a back injury, one of the reasons Ighalo was signed.
United’s mission was to secure a top four spot, and Ighalo was the insurance to do so.
Rashford was able to stay fit upon his return in June, but he could easily have suffered a setback.
United also benefited from the perfect storm of Anthony Martial hitting form, and his first ever hat-trick, and Mason Greenwood returning post-lockdown in unstoppable form.
If any one of these had not happened, then Ighalo would have played a more frequent role as United chased goals and a top four spot.
In the scenario where United had not re-signed Ighalo, and then Martial and Rashford had suffered injuries, there would have been pitchforks out for the board for not re-extending the Nigerian’s loan deal.
Ighalo was the back-up who United did not need, as it turned out. Yet he could have been required. With so much to gain or lose from Champions League qualification, the club felt he was a safety net worth paying for.
But it’s also important to remember the way he signed off, before the lockdown. Ighalo scored four goals from three starts and looked good. League starts were beginning to beckon.
While Rashford was out in February and March, Ighalo allowed United to rotate more freely and keep Martial fresh.
The lockdown saw him lose all momentum, and when he has played this season, he has looked off the pace. Edinson Cavani is a clear upgrade and United were right to take the deal to sign the Uruguayan.
In May, it also made sense to extend Ighalo. There were no other strikers who United could have signed at that time. The peculiar move was for the deal to last until January, rather than just ending in August.
The length of the extension was what United got wrong. But the club also got it right by not buying him on a permanent move. The Mail had reported that Shanghai Shenhua had wanted £20 million for that.
Respect for Ighalo
What would be a shame is if Ighalo’s name was used as a punchline and he is derided constantly as a burden or laughing stock as his contract runs down.
All it will take is a couple of injuries over a hectic festive period and Ighalo may get thrown into the mix again.
Let’s not forget how injuries in December last season decimated United’s midfield and defence to the point that Phil Jones had to start a Carabao Cup semi-final at the start of January.
Ighalo may get the chance to bow out on a high before his loan ends.
He was signed because United blew the Erling Haaland deal, and then ludicrously did not have any back-up options lined up. A striker should have even been signed months earlier, when Romelu Lukaku was sold.
For some, he will remain a poster boy for the board’s inadequacies. It would just be nice to see him end his loan spell on a high note over the coming weeks.
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