Merson Reveals He Will Be ‘Shocked’ If This On-Loan Manchester United Striker Leaves: What Should Be Ole’s Play?

Odion Ighalo of Manchester United applauds fans after the UEFA Europa League round of 32 first leg match between Club Brugge and Manchester United at Jan Breydel Stadium on February 20, 2020 in Brugge, Belgium. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

In his recent column with Sky Sports, renowned pundit Paul Merson shared his thoughts on the future of Manchester United striker Odion Ighalo, who is currently playing on loan from Shanghai Greenland Shenhua. Merson said, “It’s a hard decision Manchester United have to make regarding his future because if you give him a contract, can he perform again that next season?

“When you go to a club on loan you’ve got that hunger of wanting to secure a permanent move, prove everybody inside the club right and everybody outside the club wrong. All of a sudden, you give someone a contract and they think they’ve done all the hard work.

“You’ve only got to look at his time at Watford. He looked a world-beater but then next minute he couldn’t score a goal for toffee. But if you are going on the form he’s showed since coming to the club in January it’s going to be hard to get rid of him.

“And don’t worry about the new mega-money offers in China. He’s said all the right things since joining Manchester United. He’s turned around enough times and said he’s dreamed of playing for United, so if they do offer him a permanent deal, I can’t see him turning it down.

“Everything’s gone right for him so far and if United do offer him a chance to stay, I’d be shocked if he walked away.”

Ighalo’s Eye-Catching Loan Stint At Old Trafford So Far

Since sealing a loan move to Man United on the transfer deadline day in January, Ighalo has mostly been a sporadic role in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad. The Nigerian striker has got some valuable game time in the cup competitions but has only managed to secure half an hour’s worth of playing time in the Premier League so far.

To his credit, Ighalo has registered four goals and one assist in eight matches for the Red Devils this term on all fronts. His record sheds some light on his growing impact at the Theatre of Dreams this season. The 30-year-old has averaged 2.7 shots, 2.0 key passes and 1.7 dribbles per 90 minutes in the UEFA Europa League which proves that he can perform at a high level even with limited game time under his belt (stats via whoscored). Hence, it makes a lot of sense for the Mancunian giants to consider retaining his services on a fresh short-term contract.

What Does The 35-Time Nigeria International Offer On The Field?

Ighalo still has decent pace in his locker despite turning 30 last summer. He can put his quickness and agility to good use when taking his marker on in a foot-race in the attacking third. The Nigerian marksman can also use his remarkable strength to overpower the opposition and win some 50-50 aerial duels up top. The former Watford forward is a lethal presence in front of the opposition goal but doesn’t have time on his side. It is quite likely that Ighalo’s game will be on the decline in the coming years, which will be a big worry for Solskjaer if he can find a way to keep the player at Old Trafford.

What Should Be Solskjaer’s Play Here?

The ex-Serie A talent can still get into some promising positions in the final third, so we can expect the Man United head coach to ask him to do more of the same if he retains his services beyond this summer. The Nigerian sensation will be a good fit for the Mancunian giants, but he won’t be a long-term solution to their attacking woes. However, he will fancy his chances of scoring a lot of goals, especially with a playmaker of Bruno Fernandes’ quality operating behind him.

The Red Devils will need a strong squad if they are to challenge for some major silverware in the upcoming campaign. Hence, a forward of Ighalo’s experience and skillset will undeniably be a brilliant option for Solskjaer to call upon from his bench. The Nigerian speedster can also mentor and inspire some of the younger players in the Man United squad such as Mason Greenwood, Tahith Chong and Daniel James. For now, it seems like the Old Trafford boss will be better off keeping Ighalo at the club for at least another season until he can find a long-term solution to his offensive problems.

A 26-year-old sports writer and an aspiring football coach who has road-tripped across the Scottish Highlands, but has never been to Wales. Sucker for cliff-hangers and catchy riffs. Known to be a grunger and not to be a stranger.