Former Nigeria striker Victor Ezeji has blamed Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer over how he had utilised Odion Ighalo during his loan spell at the club.
The 31-year-old arrived on loan from Shanghai Shenhua in January as a replacement for Marcus Rashford’s long-term injury and made an instant impact particularly in the FA Cup and Europa League, scoring four goals. He also impressed in cameos in the Premier League.
Football activities were put on hold in March due to the coronavirus pandemic and Ighalo’s contract was extended until January 2021 so he could see out the 2019-20 season.
However, when football resumed and Rashford was back in the side, Ighalo saw less game time and failed to be utilised in periods where the club needed inspiration the most.
Ezeji believes the lockdown period put a dent on Ighalo’s shine which was further fuelled by his very limited game time on the pitch, in particular, the FA Cup and Europa League semi-finals against Chelsea and Sevilla respectively, which the men in red lost.
Ezeji asserted it is only natural for a manager to go with a selection that gives goals and results but blames Solskjaer for not looking to the bench that could have made the difference at times when the front three of Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood didn’t prove effective.
“Every coach believes in his starting 11 and to be very fair to Ighalo, the Covid situation [lockdown period] did not help him, because if not for Covid, Rashford would still have been out until the end of the season,” Ezeji told Goal. “And when Rashford recovered, because of the belief Ole has in Rashford, he had to bring him back into the team.
“And then you can see that Martial was firing on all cylinders, same as Greenwood, so there was no way Ole was going to drop any of those guys for Ighalo.
“But where I will fault Ole is that even when these guys [Rashford, Martial, Greenwood] are not meeting up in some games I think he will have tried Ighalo. It wasn’t really nice that a player’s contract was renewed and you didn’t even allow him to play up to 20 minutes of any Premier League game. That is not encouraging. It makes a player lose his entire confidence he has built over time.”
It is not looking certain whether Ighalo will have more minutes for the 2020-21 season which begins with a home tie against Crystal Palace on Saturday.
The Red Devils are targeting reinforcements in attack, particularly Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund. Should such a deal materialise, it might give Ighalo even less playing time and Ezeji thinks it is best the former Granada man to leave Old Trafford for better playing opportunities.
“If Ighalo was still having regular games to play, probably his confidence would have grown and probably Manchester United would have even tried to buy him permanently, but that didn’t happen,” he said.
“Ighalo had to cut down his wages just to be in Manchester, but I think he has achieved his dream of playing for them, now it’s for him to look elsewhere.”