Odion Ighalo was a top worldwide trend on social media on transfer deadline day – because his move to Manchester United seemed such an unlikely one.
He was trending again on Thursday – and this time it was for all the right reasons.
United’s managing director Richard Arnold boasted on Tuesday that Ighalo’s signing made him the top global trend on Twitter on the same day as Brexit and President Trump’s impeachment trial in the United States, with rival fans quick to point out that the reason he was doing so was not actually a positive for United.
The 30-year-old Nigeria striker was signed on loan from Shanghai Shenhua – taking a pay cut to do so – because of an injury to Marcus Rashford.
It was such a surprising move because his only real notable spell in England was with Watford and ended with six goals in his final year.
After three brief substitute appearances for United, he made his first start on Thursday with Anthony Martial ruled out. And when people were talking about him again, it was for very different reasons.
Ighalo, a boyhood United fan, became the first Nigerian to score for the club as they beat Club Bruges 5-0 in the Europa League last 32 as fans chanted his name at Old Trafford.
“It’s a great moment. I’ve been waiting for this,” Ighalo told BT Sport.
“There was a little bit of pressure but I’ve got the goal to start my Manchester United goal career, with the team I’ve supported since I was young. I dreamed of this.”
It was Ighalo’s fourth game for United – albeit the previous three had totalled 33 minutes – and it was also his first ever goal in European competition.
Ighalo’s performance kept Bruges’ defenders on their toes. While he only had 40 touches – the fewest of any United outfield player to play the whole game – he worked hard and most of his involvements were in dangerous areas.
He almost had a chance within the opening 60 seconds after being fed by Juan Mata but he tried to cut inside and ran into a defender.
Ighalo went close to getting his head on to a couple of crosses and had a shot blocked after spinning on the edge of the box.
His goal came from Bruno Fernandes’ fine pass over the top to Mata, who squared for Ighalo to score from six yards out.
He had a chance for a second when he turned his marker and forced a low save from Simon Mignolet.
If Martial does not recover for Sunday’s game against Everton, Ighalo and Mason Greenwood will vie for the place up front.
Ighalo celebrated his goal by showing a T-shirt with his sister’s face underneath. Mary Atole, 42, died suddenly in Canada on 12 December, just seven weeks before her brother’s dream move.
“I lost my sister in December, and she is very dear to me, she is a good United fan too,” Ighalo told MUTV.
“We hoped for this moment, but now I am in United she is not here to see what is going on so it is a bit emotional for me. I promise myself that every goal I score I will dedicate to her. She is up there watching me and doing well for United.”
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – who scored 126 times for United in his playing career – was delighted to see Ighalo get on the scoresheet.
“Odion was up front doing what he does,” said Solskjaer. “He’s a target man who can hold it.
“As a fellow striker I know how important your first goal is. He’s been close a number of times. You can see he sniffs goals. He wants to be in there where it sometimes hurts.
“His goal showed he was sharp in the head. When the ball is played to Juan, he spins and is on the six-yard line when Juan puts it there. A natural striker.”
Ighalo also caught the eye of two former Manchester United players covering the game for BT Sport.
Midfielder Paul Scholes said: “He did well and looked sharp. He’s come into this team at the right time, just as a really creative player has come in in Bruno Fernandes. If United need to rely on him I think he’ll do a good job.”
And another former England midfielder Owen Hargreaves agreed: “I like the fact he gives United a reference point.
“He is strong with his back to goal and is different to Martial and Rashford like that and I think we’ll see more goals from him for Manchester United between now and the end of the season.”