Bashing Manchester United over the mind is really trendy and with good reason. The frenzied deadline-day signing of Odion Ighalo only served to strengthen this belief.
Waiting until the last moments of the window to advance in a 30-year-old striker who’s spent the past 3 years in the Chinese Super League is pretty unedifying for a club of United’s ilk or any side masquerading as the largest in world football.
However, after giving up on Mario Mandžukić and Thomas Müller in the fall and failing with a high-profile movement for Erling Håland, United were on short term choices thanks to the stress fracture in Marcus Rashford’back.
Some seemed sensible, and of a standing appropriate for a Manchester United striker — such as Edinson Cavani. Others, like Salomón Rondón, the former Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion goal man.
And then there were the only fanciful names. There were lots of those, for instance, now-35-year-old Carlos Tévez, a United favorite until his defection to Manchester City in 2009. It’s tough to imagine many fans being thrilled at the prospect of this Argentine returning at Old Trafford after his controversial cross-city switch over a decade prior.
Of those names connected and The Athletic count a whopping 113 in most places, Ighalo belonged in the far-fetched end of this fanciful collection.
In more ways than one, it was a rather remarkable move. Before the January window opening, Ighalo had been connected with a return to Watford, for whom he scored 39 times in 99 looks between 2014 and 2017. But that conversation went cold when Quique Sánchez Flores, his trainer for the 2015/16 campaign, was sacked.
Twelve months before, the Nigerian striker claimed he turned down a short-term loan change into Barcelona as they hunted striking cover for Lionel Messi. But the 30-year-old could not reject the overtures of his boyhood club something United were keen to play up when they announce his shock Old Trafford switch.
A return to the Premier League hasn’t been out of the question for Ighalo. He’s got a very active agent that makes it tough to distinguish fact from fiction.
Yet among all of the cynicism, there’s a case to be made that this may really be a fantastic bit of business or at least not a very bad one for the Red Devils.
United need a centre-forward before the end of the year to assist Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood through until Rashford returns from his injury lay-off. That much is evident. On this basis, signing someone indefinitely would create a problem further down the line.
A deadline-day bid for Joshua King has been turned down by Bournemouth. Had the Norwegian returned to Old Trafford, Ole Gunnar Solskjær could have had too many forward before next season. Given Greenwood’s prodigious talent, obstructing his path using a 28-year-old could have been short-sighted.
Ighalo will come, play the games Solskjær does not wish to risk Martial and Greenwood in, provide a choice off the bench and do all of it with minimal fuss. Because he’s so clearly not a Manchester United player and so vocally a fan of the club, he’ll do it all with good grace, also.
Second, his target record in the Premier League is quite great for a person who has only played in a promoted team previously.
Whilst Manchester United have struggled to create chances this year, their general open-play xG of 32.48 only ranks eighth in the Premier League, the coming of Bruno Fernandes, who provided 29 assists for Sporting in the previous few seasons, could go a long way to solving this issue. If the Portuguese have the desirable result, a finisher such as Ighalo must flourish.
While he’s nominally a poacher, the player who gets at the end of opportunities, he’s surprisingly powerful and robust. He uses his body well and his hold-up and link-up play make him a far more rounded player than he’s given credit for.
Or how he used his body to fend off Eric Dier before turning and poking past Hugo Lloris at a narrow reverse against Tottenham Hotspur.
There’s absolutely not any doubt Ighalo linking Manchester United is a damning indictment of where the Red Devils are at this stage in their history, not the mention of their random recruitment.