With the Premier League now set to return on 17 June after the suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic, Manchester United remain locked in negotiations with Shanghai Shenhua over the possibility of extending Odion Ighalo’s loan spell.
The Nigerian joined on loan in January to provide cover for injured forward Marcus Rashford and has had a short but fruitful spell with the Red Devils, managing four goals and an assist from eight games in all competitions.
His signing was a strange one, admittedly. After confirmation that Bruno Fernandes had joined United the night before, the Red Devils scrambled to get Ighalo over the line on deadline day having failed with a last-minute bid for Bournemouth’s Joshua King, and losing out on Erling Haaland to Borussia Dortmund.
Whether Ighalo stays at Old Trafford beyond the current season or not – and signs would suggest ‘not’ – his signing was proof that United are still crying out for a striker who can deliver consistent goals and a focal point. Both Rashford and Martial have been tried in the central number nine position and, while Martial has had some limited success, it hasn’t been consistent.
As for Rashford, he is a much greater threat playing inside from the left wing. That success means that any number nine would have the burden of goalscoring taken off him somewhat, but demands a more rounded skillset.
It looks like United are set for another busy summer transfer window as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looks to build on a rejuvenated squad with a newfound identity, and a striker may well be on the shopping list. With Joshua King said to be a target for four of the Premier League’s top six this summer, it is imperative that the Red Devils avoid going in for the Norwegian forward once again.
The approach for King back in January was an inherently rushed and panicked decision. With Haaland signing for Dortmund and Marcus Rashford out for most of the season (before the pandemic allowed him time to recover) United were desperate to get a striker in to replace their local lad’s impressive form and goals scored. The £25m bid for Joshua King came to nothing, and United opted for the left-field signing of former Watford man Ighalo, who is a lifelong fan of the club.
The rush for a striker unearthed some papered-over cracks at Old Trafford that many had actually been aware of for a while. The decision not to replace Romelu Lukaku last summer was audacious, but showed a patient approach and something different to the recruitment policy adopted before Solskjaer took charge.
To then go and chuck £25m at Bournemouth for a forward who is proven at mid-table level at best would have completely undermined this patience adopted in summer, and a move for him again will show the board’s lack of footballing patience. Again.
Bruno Fernandes has been a hit at Old Trafford for a number of reasons. Granted, he’s a flashy European signing for big money, so there was no excuse for him not to perform – but his attitude has also been incredibly refreshing around the club, echoing the new policy that Solskjaer is seemingly trying to implement. It’s a blend of world-class talent, a desire to play for the club and succeed in a developing project.
Ighalo has followed suit in taking on board the new identity; a lifelong fan and excited by every second he’s spent at the club. To be honest, King may not have been much different. Once a product of the United academy, he would be returning with a chip on his shoulder and a point to prove. The difference is that Ighalo was available in the CSL’s off-season on loan terms, and King would’ve been far more pricy.
King is by no means a bad player, he’s just not an out-and-out number nine, which is what United are crying out for. Instead the Norwegian, who is now 28 and entering his peak, operates mostly as a winger or second striker coming in from out wide – the same role that both Rashford and Martial seem to operate best in.
United instead need to pursue targets who are primarily central strikers. Someone who can lead the line, dominate the opposition box and freely score goals, while being supported by the pace of two supporting forwards who will also chip in. Bruno Fernandes needs a centre-forward to fire passes and direct play towards, not another versatile player that’s a jack of all trades but master of none. If United don’t get this, then it makes their Portuguese playmaker’s job much harder next season.
If the Red Devils moved for King, it would be another example of a miscalculated transfer for a player who doesn’t quite fit the tactical needs of the squad, as he would no doubt be shoehorned in as the central option and inevitably struggle. King wouldn’t exactly come cheap either, considering interest is high and their first bid of £25m was rejected.
United must take the time to properly evaluate more suitable striker options and pursue those instead. A move for King would be another sideways step, and summarise all of the inconsistencies that still exist at the club.