From Ajegunle To His Orphanage To Turning Down Barca – All You Need To Know About Odion Ighalo

Oluwole Ola

Manchester United pulled off one of the most surprising January transfers in history by signing Odion Ighalo on deadline day.

The former Watford striker has joined on loan from Chinese Super League club Shanghai Shenhua until the end of the season. He is expected to provide back-up for Anthony Martial with Marcus Rashford sidelined with a back injury.

United were desperately looking to sign a striker on transfer deadline day and were linked with the likes of Josh King, Islam Slimani and Salomon Rondon, before landing Ighalo.

Here’s everything you need to know about Ighalo.

What clubs has he played for?

Starting his career in Nigeria, Ighalo played for homeland clubs Prime and Julius Berger and had a short spell with Norwegian side Lyn before moving to Udinese in Italy.

He was loaned out to Granada, twice, Cesena and Watford, where he would get his big break. The Hornets signed him on a permanent deal for free after Udinese terminated his contract in 2014. The move was easy to complete with both clubs being owned by the Pozzo Family.

Ighalo scored 20 times to help Watford win promotion to the Premier League in the 2014/15 campaign and followed up with an impressive 15-goal haul in his debut top-flight season. He struggled to replicate his form in the 2016/17 season, though, scoring just once in 18 league outings before completing a £20million January move to Changchun Yatai in China.

Ighalo joined Shanghai Shenhua for £5million last year following Changchun Yatai’s relegation from the Chinese Super League.

He netted 46 league goals during his three seasons in China.

What’s his international career been like?

Ighalo has a decent scoring record on the international stage, netting 16 goals in 35 appearances for Nigeria.

He was the top scorer at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations with five goals as the Super Eagles finished in third place.

When Nigeria limped out of the 2018 FIFA World Cup via a gut-twisting late goal loss to Argentina, Ighalo was singled out as the villain of the piece by the majority of Super Eagles fans. He endured vitriolic abuse on social media from trolls who not only targeted him but abused his wife and called his children names too, even going so far as making death threats against the player and his family.

He was deeply hurt by those over-the-top reactions. To his credit, that was when his equanimity shone through, and he simply disabled comments on his Instagram feed. A deeply religious man, the striker turned to the one place he always goes in times of distress: his faith.

“God is always faithful,” he told ESPN at the height of his troubles. “When you believe in Him and you trust Him, everything all work out.

What does he do outside of football?

While earning a reported £300,000-a-week in China, Ighalo has put that money to a very good cause.

In 2017, the Ighalo Orphanage Home was opened in Ijegun, Lagos. The 30-year-old reportedly paid 500 million Nigerian naira, which is around £1million, to build the home.

The apartment blocks can hold between 30 to 40 children, who are looked after and educated until they turn 18. On the Ighalo Orphanage Home website, Ighalo says it is his ‘privilege’ to be providing for children in his country.

He is a boyhood Man United fan

In 2017, Ighalo revealed it would be his ‘dream’ to play for Manchester United one day.

He is also pictured in a Vodafone jersey of Manchester United while he was much younger.

“I loved watching Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke on TV. They were my idols and playing at Old Trafford has always been a dream.”

 
He turned down Barcelona last year

Before joining Shanghai Shenhua, Ighalo claimed Barcelona tried to sign him on a six-month loan deal.

However, he cited a potential lack of first-team football at the Nou Camp so opted to stay in China.

He said: “My agent spoke to me about a loan interest from Barcelona. The club wanted a striker with La Liga experience and someone who understands Spanish football.

“It was meant to be a six-month loan and strictly as a back-up striker. It was nice to hear that Barcelona were interested and any footballer would be more than happy to take it.

“But with due respect I had just finished as the second top scorer in China with 21 goals, I deserve better and didn’t want to be a short-term player somewhere.

“We rejected it, it was an easy decision to make and I chose to stay in China by joining Shanghai Shenhua on a longer contract.”

What’s been said about him?

United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hailed Ighalo’s professionalism after signing him.

He said: “Odion is an experienced player. He will come in and give us an option of a different type of centre-forward for the short spell he’s staying with us.

“A great lad and very professional, he will make the most of his time here.”

 

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