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The Nigeria striker was an unused substitute when the Red Devils eliminated Watford from the FA Cup
The fairy tale was not meant to end like this.
Odion Ighalo’s arrival at Manchester United a year ago was the stuff of dreams, literally, for the Nigeria international, but things have not gone as planned.
As his inevitable departure from Old Trafford draws ever closer, this weekend’s FA Cup meeting with Watford should have been an opportunity for a final farewell to his childhood club – and potentially, English football. .
The Hornets, after all, were the club that had given him his first chance in the Premier League before cheering him on to leave for China, allegedly against his wishes, when his first season in England ended.
Despite things not going quite as planned at Prem since the pandemic hit these shores, the forward appeared in line for a rare opportunity to hit from the bench after being named among the substitutes for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Sunday.
In the end, even this chance for a final performance in red was denied him, as the Norwegian coach introduced Harry Maguire, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Nemanja Matic from the bench and left Ighalo unused.
The West African was ultimately denied the chance for one last farewell against the club he served for three years, and his FA Cup goal against Norwich City last season may remain his final goalscoring contribution to the Red Devils.
While United made progress, thanks to Scott McTominay’s first game, Monday’s draw that pitted them against fierce rivals Liverpool in the Fourth Round isn’t great news for Ighalo.
The match, which comes eight days before the forward’s loan contract expires, will be a cautious and close-knit match, and Ole is unlikely to make emotional cameos.
Ighalo looks destined to end his stint at United on a low note and ultimately without the closure he hoped for.
Certainly his time at the club has been disappointing.
He was never meant to have been United’s first choice, nor was he the glamorous type of signing to get the pulse racing, but as short-term solutions advance, particularly with concerns about the club’s injuries at the time of his arrival, and the Red Devils competing on multiple fronts, their arrival made sense.
Initially, things worked out well, and Ighalo generated a lot of goodwill when he revealed, seemingly with surprising authenticity, that United had been close to his heart since his youth.
Relieving the pressure on the wings while competing on multiple fronts, Ighalo became the go-to man for cup competitions; he scored at will in both the FA Cup and the Europa League.
He even equaled a United record that had stood for 95 years when he scored that goal against Norwich following the resumption of action after the coronavirus suspension, becoming the first player since Jimmy Hanson in 1925 to score in his first four starts. competitive for the club.
It almost didn’t matter that he barely played in the Premier League and didn’t score when he did.
Ultimately, that effort against the Canaries was as good as ever for Ighalo at Old Trafford, with the Covid-19 suspension and United’s strong performances during Project Restart not working in his favor.
Marcus Rashford came back from injury, providing more competition, then Mason Greenwood proved he could make a difference in the Premier League, United were knocked out of the FA Cup and the decision was made to play the Europa League after the season ended. Prem.
Shortly after football returned in 2020, it became clear that the reasons Ighalo was brought to the Northwest were no longer reasons at all.
He was way down the pecking order before Edinson Cavani was drafted into a free transfer before the transfer window closed.
Here was another veteran, none other than Ighalo, with a higher pedigree in the game; more successful, more covered and destined to play longer at Old Trafford than his new teammate.
As Cavani has started to make his mark, Ighalo’s playing time has run out; He has only played four times so far this season and has played only once, as a last-minute substitute against Paris Saint-Germain, since the Carabao Cup win over Brighton & Hove Albion in September.
If you had no playing time in the FA Cup Third Round against lower league opponents
Cavani may have endured a difficult season in Ligue 1 in 2019-20 as he scored just four, but managed 100 league goals in the previous four seasons alone, and has already scored three of nine in the Prem so far. seasonal.
No one can blame Ighalo for seizing the opportunity to extend his loan stay at United until early 2021, given that he was denied the opportunity to make a genuine impact last season due to Covid.
Yet as his stint at the club draws to a close, and another opportunity to make a mark passes by, the forward must surely reflect on the wasted six months of his career on the United bench.
The Red Devils may also reflect on the money wasted badly, as the elderly attacker comes in for an initial £ 6 million and a large chunk of his reported £ 300,000 weekly wages.
It’s a disappointing conclusion to Ighalo’s time at Old Trafford as while things didn’t start off particularly auspiciously, he overcame initial skepticism with his goals and attitude, and arguably deserved more opportunities to build on his encouraging goal ratio minutes from the last season.