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Should Ighalo have opted for Tottenham Hotspur over dream Manchester United move?

00:21 GMT 01/03/2020
Odion Ighalo Manchester United 2019-20
Was the forward right to move to the Red Devils even though he'd have had the greater impact in North London?

When Odion Ighalo scored his first Manchester United goal against Club Brugge, after unselfish play from Juan Mata, the joy was palpable, especially on social media.

Nearly every football-loving Nigerian had been waiting for that moment, and it came in the 34th-minute of what was to be a comfortable 5-0 win against 10 men at Old Trafford.

It should have come earlier too: against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, the forward missed a one-on-one shortly after his introduction, which was stopped by Willy Caballero‘s legs, before failing to convert from a tight angle against old side Watford on Sunday, after Adam Masina diverted his left-footed shot on to the post.

Scoring in either encounter - his debut or first game at the Theatre of Dreams - will have prompted an even greater outpouring of love, but Thursday night’s strike still got people talking.

Be that as it may, and putting sentiment aside, should Ighalo have joined United knowing full well game time will be at a premium?

It’s not new information that Tottenham Hotspur made a late move to bring the Shanghai Shenhua forward on loan to bolster attacking options for their top four push, but it was swiftly rejected by both parties...hours later, the former Nigeria international signed for the Red Devils.

Opting for the 13-time Premier League champions has seen him fulfil his childhood dream, but he will have played a greater role for Jose Mourinho’s side given how tricky their situation was following Harry Kane’s injury.

The world class striker picked up a season-defining hamstring injury in Spurs’ 1-0 loss at Southampton on New Year’s Day, likely ruling him out for the rest of the campaign, thus leaving the Lilywhites without a recognised striker in the side.

In that sense, a move for Ighalo made sense and the former Watford man was going to be guaranteed time on the pitch domestically and in the Champions League, which is obviously superior in prestige to the Europa League.

The injury situation in North London got even worse for Mourinho in mid-February after Son Heung-min sustained a fracture to his right arm against Aston Villa which further reduces the Portuguese coach’s already limited choices in attack for the foreseeable future.

It led to the former Man United boss playing Lucas Moura and Dele Alli up front in their 1-0 Champions League defeat by RasenBallsport Leipzig, which failed spectacularly as the latter, frustrated by the horde of long balls lumped forward, had a bad game.

Against his old club Chelsea last Saturday, Mourinho was even more negative, lining up in an ultra-defensive 5-4-1 formation with 178cm Steven Bergwijn isolated in attack.

While many criticised the 57-year-old manager, it felt unseemly to not show a bit of sympathy owing to his dearth of striking options.

Ighalo’s snub has put Spurs in dire straits, somewhat as well as jeopardise a fourth-place finish which seemed unlikely when they changed head coaches; Mauricio Pochettino was jettisoned with the London outfit in 14th, 11 points behind their London rivals but an upturn in form as well as the teams above them neither here nor there now leaves them four points behind Frank Lampard’s troops.

It’s probably why there was so much disappointment at how Mourinho set up his team last time out in West London, a game that presented a fine opportunity of overtaking their out-of-form hosts in the standings.

His job was made difficult without an attacking outlet of Ighalo’s profile and the visitors were near sitting ducks at the home of the enemy.

To Mourinho, a striker isn’t just anyone capable of playing the role, but must be an adept target-man capable of holding up play and bringing others in, something the Nigeria forward would have provided.

If the Lilywhites fail to make the top four, their boss ought to be forgiven for looking back at Ighalo’s Deadline Day snub with a tinge of regret, given the far-reaching consequences of him choosing his dream move over a transfer to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

They face Wolverhampton Wanderers on Sunday, still without a recognised number nine, and it might lead to another negative plan by their coach, who feels hamstrung by his dearth of options.

It’s a game Ighalo would surely have started if he chose London over Manchester, but the former Super Eagle will instead have to accept a role on the bench when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s troops face Everton at Goodison Park this weekend, as Anthony Martial is expected to return.

However, you get the sense that the player isn't transfixed on the number of appearances he makes, neither is he troubled about choosing a bit-part role with the Red Devils over a starting berth in North London.

He’s just happy to be involved in whatever capacity in Manchester red as a lifelong dream has finally become reality.