The 31-year-old has inked a deal with Al Shabab, despite a number of Premier League sides needing to add goal threat in a bid for safety.
As is often the case with pleasant dreams, Odion Ighalo’s time at Manchester United ended with something of an anti-climax.
What had started with such warmth and goodwill 12 months prior – the eminently gratifying story of a childhood fan attaining the seemingly impossible – tailed off into nothing at all, as excitement and expectation gave way to drab reality.
Of his 23 appearances for the Red Devils over the course of his loan (he scored five times), only five came in the 2020/21 season; an eye-watering 78 percent of his playing total in terms of minutes coming in the second half of the previous campaign. This fits perfectly with the general theme: he was brought in as a temporary stopgap, and as soon as United acquired the services of Edinson Cavani, he became a largely superfluous presence about the place.
While not a starter by any stretch, Ighalo popped up with important goals when he was afforded minutes in the Europa League and the FA Cup.
That gave the lie to the sense that, in heading out to China, he was finished as a serious factor on the biggest stage, and may have ultimately convinced him of the utility of sticking around a little longer, if only to remain in the shop window for a move back to English football.
That is a bet that has not come off, with the striker now turning out for Saudi Arabian side Al Shabab. While it is one of the biggest clubs in the country, it is impossible not to wonder if Ighalo could not have done better.
At 31, he is hardly a relic. And while his quality may not have been quite at the level required by a club of Manchester United’s standing, his stint at Old Trafford demonstrated that, on his day, he was well capable of rising to the challenge of excellence.
Physically, the former Nigeria is not significantly diminished, and his hunger – if the motivation is right – has not waned.
Saudi Arabia just feels, conversely, like a culmination rather than a stop-over, and suggests an acceptance on Ighalo’s part of his own decline.
One final money move, which for a professional footballer is fair enough. Viewed another way, it seems eminently logical: having lived his gilded dream, what more might he have been expected to strive for?
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