BY KUNLE SOLAJA
With time running out on his loan spell at Manchester United, Nigeria’s Odion Ighalo is now considering a return to Super Eagles and a possible move to America’s Major League Soccer, MLS.
The striker whose last year’s January last day transfer to Manchester United hit global headlines told ESPN’s popular Interview programme, ‘Alexis Meet Nunes’ on Thursday that he was in good communication with Super Eagles’ manager and a return to the national team may be in the offing.
“I have good relationship with Gernot Rohr and at a time he wanted me to return to the team because he finds it difficult to seeing me play for Manchester United and not playing again for the Super Eagles.
“Although I retired from the team very early due to injury before the AFCON for eight weeks and unfortunately, I left the tournament with another injury and considering the travels from China wasn’t good from for me and have to look at other options of giving the younger ones a chance.
“I miss everyone in the team and if the need arises, I will want to play at another World Cup finals or the African Cup of Nations if not both tournaments but for now I will want the young lads to enjoy themselves,” he said in the television interview.
In a related development, with his loan move from Chinese side, Shanghai Shenhua, set to end on Jan. 31 after a year at Old Trafford the Nigerian star is waiting before making a decision on his next move but has said he would “love” the opportunity to play in the U.S.
“Today, I’m in Manchester but at the end of the month I don’t know where I’m going to be,” Ighalo told ESPN. “If it’s possible I’d like to stay here but if not I have to go.
“I have options. I wait for my agent. He is doing his job and I’m doing mine. At the end of the month, we have to decide what is best and we’ll take it. If it’s possible I’d like to play in MLS but I have to wait to see if it’s possible.
“The league is doing well and if the opportunity arises then I’d grab it with two hands,” he said.
In the finals days of the loan spell at Manchester United, things are not rosy for the Nigerian the arrival of Uruguay star, Edinson Cavani in the summer, it is unlikely United will extend Ighalo’s stay.
But if he leaves at the end of the month, the 31-year-old said he will do so having fulfilled his dream of playing for the team he supported as a boy in Lagos.
“I never believed I’d play for United,” he said. “Where I come from, we fight because of United games.
“We quarrel. We argue. When my team hasn’t done well, I’ve cried. I grew my love for United since I was young and I’m the happiest man on Earth for my dream to come true. I’ve fulfilled my dream to play for Man United.”
It was a surprise when United turned to Ighalo to fill the void left by the injured Marcus Rashford in January 2020. And not least to Ighalo himself.
“When the talk started I didn’t believe it,” he said. “I didn’t believe my agent.
“But I got a call from my agent that Man United wanted to do the deal at about 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. Shanghai time and I didn’t sleep until day break.
“They said I would need to take a pay cut but I said I don’t care, whatever the pay cut needs to be, just make this deal happen. This is my dream. I was on my bed praying. I didn’t sleep for two days. I didn’t believe it until I landed at Manchester airport.”
Ighalo made a key contribution to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team at the end of last season, scoring five goals in 19 appearances as United reached the semifinals of the FA Cup and Europa League, as well as finishing third in the Premier League to secure a return to the Champions League.
He has found opportunities harder to come by this term but it has not dented his appreciation for the chance to live out his dream.
“I’m a professional, I don’t make trouble and I don’t complain,” he said. “I just go to training and give my best.
“Lately I haven’t been playing much but it’s the coach’s decision. If I’m not in the team and give them 100% support. The team is doing well and that’s the most important thing.”