On Tuesday, 26 January 2021 Odion Ighalo announced his exit from Manchester United following almost a year of loan spell at Old Trafford.
The 31-year-old joined the Red Devils on transfer deadline day, January 2020 from Chinese Super League (CSL) side, Shanghai Greenland Shenhua which was initially due to end on 31 May, 2020 but the outbreak of the deadly Coronavirus forced the Red Devil to extend the deal to 30 January 2021.
The move to Manchester United was a ‘dream come true’ for the Nigerian as he grabbed the opportunity to play for his boyhood club. It was beautiful how the news was celebrated in Nigeria as he became the first Nigeria to represent the Old Trafford first team.
To others, it was a huge shock because the former Watford striker had left the premier league for a move to China and considering that he wasn’t as young as he used to be – many wondered if it was the right move for Ole Gunnars Solsjaer’s side.
At the time, it was a stop-gap move as United had injury issues with Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial struggling with injuries and Romelu Lukaku already sold to Inter Milan.
Ighalo’s signing became more than just a stop-gap as it proved to be a commercial success for the club and the Nigerian made his presence felt in the Cup competitions with his five goals contribution but the stand-out came in the UEFA Europa League when he scored a brilliant goal.
The former Super Eagles striker scored a half-volley after juggling the ball which he received from Bruno Fernandes before shooting past the goalkeeper with a left drive from the edge of the box during the 5–0 win over LASK. The goal was later voted Manchester United’s goal of the month for March.
However, this season has been different as Ighalo has struggled for game time due to the availability of Man United’s special front three, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood. And the arrival of the ‘El Matador’ Edinson Cavani, who left Paris Sanit German on a free transfer.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 27, 2021
According to the contract, everyone knew Ighalo is due to leave Manchester United at the end of January but for the Nigerian – Old Trafford was home and if it meant playing for free until the end of his career, he would’ve accepted. Ighalo already showed that part when he took a pay cut from his 200, 000 pounds weekly fee to join United on loan.
Ighalo, also stalled on signing a new deal of 400, 000 pounds per week with Shanghai Shenhua to put an extension to his loan deal at Old Trafford – it was a gesture that warmed him more into the hearts of fans of the Manchester club.
So, it was not a surprise when he penned this beautiful note to the club and fans: “It’s so hard to see this dream come to an end. But I give God the glory for helping me fulfill this lifelong dream of putting on a Manchester United shirt as a player and represent this great club, it was indeed an honour I will forever cherish and be grateful for.
“To the manager I say thank you for trusting and believing in me when many did not. To my amazing team-mates I will miss you guys, it was always fun and a time I look forward to training and spending time with all of you. And I pray we win the league and FA Cup this year.
“To the best fans in the world (the Manchester United fans) we have missed you, but we hear your voices cheering us on from afar, we can’t wait to have you all back on the stands.
“I’m still and would remain a MANCHESTER UNITED FAN forever. Once a Red, always a Red. Thank you Manchester United and God bless.”
Club captain Harry Maguire wrote: ‘All the best mate’, while Bruno Fernandes posted a message in Italian which translates as ‘We will miss you.’ Midfielders, Scott McTominay, Jesse Lingard, Donny van de Beek and goalkeeper David De Gea all offered their best wishes too.
Manchester United appreciated Ighalo and replied: “We’d like to join the players and thank Odion for his efforts while at the club and wish him all the best for the future.”
Ighalo has returned to Shanghai Greenland Shenhua, having made 23 appearances for Manchester United, scoring five goals. His goal during the 2-1 FA Cup quarter-final win at Norwich City made him the first player in 95 years to score in his first four starts for Manchester United – record he will always be proud of.
If the decision of his future were in his hands, Ighalo would’ve preferred to play for Manchester United for free and retire at Old Trafford – that is how much he moved the Red Devils.