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Where next for Odion Ighalo after Changchun Yatai relegation?

8:46 PM GMT 16/12/2018
Odion Ighalo - Nigeria vs. Argentina
The Nigerian forward had a stellar year in the Chinese top flight, but his heroics weren’t enough to save his team from avoiding the drop

COMMENT    By Kunle Fayiga     Follow on Twitter

While Odion Ighalo has regularly had his doubters in Nigeria, even after his recent improved form with the Super Eagles, there are no such doubts in China, where he plies his club football.

Since arriving at Changchun Yatai from Watford in 2017, the 29-year old striker has found the back of the net 36 times in the Chinese Super League.

Last season, he banged in 21 goals in 28 games to finish as the second highest goalscorer just behind Lei Wu of Shanghai SIPG.

Despite the impressive numbers, Changchun were unable to stay up. They finished second from bottom and were relegated to the Chinese League One.

Will Ighalo play second-tier football next season? It's hard to imagine after his fine campaign.

Assuming the forward isn't going to be plying his trade in the second tier, where could he feature next term?

Ighalo moved to China for a fee of around £20 million in January 2017, and is reported to be on a salary of £200,000 a week.

It's a wage that puts him out of the reach of the vast majority of clubs around the world, and would any take him out of the wealthy bubble of Chinese football?

With likes of champions Shanghai SIPG parading Hulk, and Guangzhou Evergrande boasting Allan and Ricardo Goulart, all men scoring on a consistent basis, Shanghai Shenhua could be an ideal destination for the relegated frontman.

Shenhua finished a distant seventh on the CSL log last term, a massive 30 points behind SIPG.

It's disappointing, as they should have been much closer to the top and challenging for top honours. Demba Ba could only find the back of the net five times, while former FC Porto midfielder Fredy Guarin was the club’s top scorer with just seven strikes.

Ighalo’s prowess would help their fortunes.

Beyond China, a return to Europe can’t be ruled out.

Ighalo made a name for himself at Watford after scoring 15 goals upon their return to the Premier League in 2015, and he will always be remembered for scoring 30 goals during the 2015 calendar year. It was the highest of any player in England’s four professional tiers.

Perhaps Ighalo isn't a player the top clubs in Europe would be after, but he would still command a huge fee and salary based on his exploits in China.

Could the Premier League be one of the few destinations that could afford him?

With a lucrative TV rights deal shared among the 20 English top flight clubs, there’s enough money to spend, and teams regularly break their own transfer records as they look to buy a modicum of success.

So which club could be interested in Ighalo’s services?

Everton and West Ham United are two sides that spring to mind.

The Toffees do have a number of forwards, but none of them have been firing on a consistent basis.

Cenk Tosun is struggling to cement a starting berth, likewise the promising Ademola Lookman and Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Richarlison has been used as the lone striker, and even though he has eight strikes to his name, he is not a natural centre-forward.

Marco Silva's side would be in trouble if Richarlison were to pick up an injury.

For the Hammers, they have an abundance of forwards, but none of Javier Hernandez, Lucas Perez, Marko Arnautovic and Andy Carroll have truly convinced as a central striker this term.

It remains to be seen whether either club would beat away the Chinese riches to lure Ighalo, although it's worth noting that Everton were the fifth highest spenders in Europe during the 2017 summer transfer window, while the Hammers broke the £100-million transfer mark this summer.

The likes of Gylfi Sigurdsson, Theo Walcott and Chicharito earn more than a £100,000 a weekk, and even if they might not be able to squeeze the £200,000 Ighalo earns in China, the Nigerian might take a slight pay cut in order to return to the big time. 

A move to either Everton or West Ham won’t be bad for Ighalo, as either could realistically feature in Europe next term.

With an in-form Ighalo leading the line, the duo's fortunes could improve significantly over the coming months.