Manchester United's Odion Ighalo celebrates scoring his side's second goal during the FA Cup Fifth Round match between Derby County and Manchester United at Pride Park on March 5, 2020 in Derby, England
Odion Ighalo wants to stay at Manchester United, but his Chinese side Shanghai Shenhua reportedly want him to return at the end of May. Should United consider signing him permanently?
Ighalo made an impressive start to his loan after taking a couple of weeks to get closer to match fitness due to being kept out of action by China’s initial coronavirus outbreak. Four goals in eight appearances is a ratio which - if sustainable - would mark him out as one of the best strikers in the Premier League.
Of course, there are a fair few reservations before assuming that Ighalo could contribute so consistently to the side.
Ighalo’s four goals have all been scored outside the Premier League - two in the FA Cup and two in the Europa League. Club Brugge and Derby County are well off the standard at the top of English football, but neither are they total rubes. Nevertheless, signing Ighalo on a permanent deal with no indication he can regularly score in the league would be some risk.
Other concerns are more practical. Ighalo is 31 in a little over a month’s time. He has two or three years before his career will likely come to an end, and having been burned by Radamel Falcao, Alexis Sanchez and Bastian Schweinsteiger, it seems that Ed Woodward is focusing on younger players. United are linked to Jadon Sancho, James Maddison and Jack Grealish, and if Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford are fit at the start of any resumption, another striker may not be needed.
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As well as that, Ighalo’s wages at his parent club are around £300,000 a week. With the best will in the world, that does not represent good value to United for a player of his talent. He has been willing to lower his wage demands to make the loan spell happen, but he may not be willing to miss out on the full stipend on offer in China.
In a perfect world, United would never have needed to sign Ighalo as a stopgap measure. They only needed to because they were too slack to secure the signing of Erling Braut Haaland. In a COVID-free world, United would now be planning to send Ighalo back to China as they look for younger support for Rashford and Anthony Martial.
But United’s apparently-abandoned search for a director of football and the unquantifiable impacts of coronavirus mean that Ighao could offer a viable option. Another loan extension may allow Shanghai Shenhua to take back their striker next winter or the following summer, while permitting United to focus their transfer funds on Sancho or another more expensive attacking midfielder.
It is not yet clear either that the transfer window will definitely re-open on its usual dates, and even if it does, players may still be cup-tied until a new season restarts. That would be a logical limit, but given the league could be interrupted more than once if there are further outbreaks, then extending a loan deal for Ighalo will be merely a case of keeping his registration rather than adding a new signing.
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There is also no guarantee of a full pre-season ahead of the next campaign, whenever it begins. It is perhaps easier to keep hold of a player of Ighalo’s relatively limited abilities if he has the right attitude and will not need to settle in. Taking him on for a season may allow other resources beyond money - time and effort - to be focused on more difficult areas.
Ighalo is clear. Speaking to the BBC last week, he said: "I would like to finish the season if it's possible.
.I was in good form, good shape, scoring goals and now we've stopped now for over a month. I've given it my best and hopefully we'll come back to play.
He wants to stay, but given the unpredictable intervention and effects of a pandemic, he knows that nothing is certain. For United, they might be best served by securing Ighalo now in a transfer of convenience.