Manchester United boss, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has told youngsters to learn from the physical presence of Odion Ighalo, the loan striker. Many critics were left scratching their heads when Manchester United plumped for Odion Ighalo on the last day of the January transfer window, but the loan signing now appears to be a shrewd move.
The former Nigeria international made it three goals from two starts as the Red Devils, who opened the scoring through Luke Shaw, beat second-tier Derby 3-0 on Thursday night to move into the FA Cup quarter-finals.
Having spent the last three years plying his trade in the Chinese Super League, it was assumed that Ighalo would be nothing more than a stop-gap measure for United in the wake of Marcus Rashford’s double stress back fracture.
But the former Watford striker, who took a pay cut to secure his dream move from Shanghai Shenhua, has impressed in his six appearances for the Premier League club, showing glimpses of the form that saw him plunder 15 top-flight goals for the Hornets in the 2015-16 campaign.
United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has also seen enough from Ighalo, tipping him to make a big impact heading into the business end of the season.
After seeing the visitors seal a last-eight meeting against Norwich at Carrow Road on March 21, he said: “He’s doing what it says on the tin and what we asked for when we signed him… there’s more to come.
“He’ll improve, he’ll get sharper and more used to us. I have no doubt. He has a physical presence.
“You can get the ball up to him and he can keep hold of it. It’s hard to be a centre-back against him when he’s looking for you first and he buys himself half a yard just by that movement.”
At 30, Ighalo has plenty of experience when it comes to going toe-to-toe with aggressive defenders, something Solskjaer is convinced will rub off on youth-team products like Mason Greenwood.
“Sometimes, our young boys, they are not used to that from the academy,” he added. “They are used to, ‘You’re not allowed to tackle me’ almost.
“So, of course, I would like them to look at him and learn a couple of things.”
Former United defender Rio Ferdinand also told BT Sport Ighalo had won him over, owing to his different attributes compared to the usual front pairing of Rashford and Anthony Martial.
On his ability to occupy defenders and play with his back towards the goal, the pundit said: “People and myself included were probably thinking, Odion, where does he fit into all of this?
“If you have an opportunity to sign a player at the beginning of the January window, he is not the guy you are going to sign, but what he does bring is a point. A point where they can focus and play into him from the midfield. He offers the platform to run off.
“Marcus and Anthony want the ball in behind and not to bring people in. He’s in the centre of goal and that’s what he adds to this team.”
Ighalo should be on the bench for tomorrow’s Premier League clash with Manchester City at Old Trafford, but looks set to be introduced at some stage of the derby.
The boyhood United fan is also counting on the 12th man to will the hosts towards a league double – they beat City 2-1 away in December.
“Since I came here, the support I’ve been getting from the fans is amazing,” he told the club website yesterday.
“I’m very happy and I thank them, I want them to keep doing that on Sunday. It’s going to be a massive game, let’s cheer us to victory again.”