Odion Ighalo could face Watford after securing dream top flight return

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From firing Watford to Premier League promotion to enduring a 15-game goal drought before a big-money move to China… Odion Ighalo could face his former club after securing a dream top flight return with Manchester United

  • Odion Ighalo may feature against his former side Watford for Manchester United 
  • The 30-year-old Nigerian striker played for the club between 2014 and 2017
  • Ighalo helped Watford secure a Premier League return and later left for China 
  • Sportsmail takes a look back at Ighalo’s spell for the club ahead of the clash 

Odion Ighalo was unable to suppress his excitement and immediately contacted former team-mate Isaac Success just hours after securing a dream Premier League return. 

The Nigerian striker messaged Success to declare ‘I’m back’ after sealing a six-month loan switch to Manchester United, following hours of last-gasp deadline day negotiations.

And after slowly building his match fitness at Carrington, Ighalo could feature against Watford on Sunday – the club the 30-year-old represented between 2014 and 2017. 

Here, Sportsmail takes a look back at Ighalo’s spell at Vicarage Road.  

Odion Ighalo could feature against his former club Watford for Manchester United on Sunday

Ighalo remains close with many figures, both past and present, at Watford, and will likely be treated to a warm reception by the club’s travelling contingent.

He first moved to Hertfordshire on a temporary switch from Serie A side Udinese, opting to head to the Championship after penning a heartfelt farewell. His maiden goal for Watford arrived against Brentford in late September, with Ighalo netting on the rebound after his initial penalty was saved.

With three goals scored in his first four starts in the second tier, Watford snapped up Ighalo on a permanent deal just the day after the frontman was released from his parent club.

His penalty area prowess soon resulted in four second-half goals against Blackpool, which triggered an eventual 7-2 rout despite the visitors having secured a two-goal advantage at the break.

Watford achieved automatic promotion, despite missing out on top spot on the final day of the campaign to Bournemouth, and Ighalo extended his impressive tally for the season to 20 goals.

Ighalo remains close to figures at Watford after helping the club achieve top flight promotion

And his ruthless form unsurprisingly extended to the beginning of the Hornets’ top flight return. 

Watford travelled to Everton for the season opener, with Ighalo introduced off the bench with 16 minutes of the clash remaining. The striker raced to the edge of the box, and twisted on to his right foot before creating a yard of space with a superbly timed faint. The away supporters erupted in ecstasy just seconds later after Ighalo’s powerful strike whistled beyond Tim Howard and into the far corner. 

A brace against West Ham in October ensured Ighalo reached seven goals for the season, becoming Watford’s highest ever scorer in the Premier League after just the opening 11 fixtures.

For a brief spell, an Ighalo goal typically resulted in a Watford victory – with the red-hot forward helping secure the club maximum points for the fourth consecutive time. 

That statistic was secured with a brace against Liverpool, after Ighalo showed tremendous strength to hold off Martin Skrtel before drilling low beyond Adam Bogdan to double Watford’s lead.  

Ighalo became Watford’s highest scorer in the Premier League after a brace against Liverpool

ODION IGHALO’S WATFORD STATS

Appearances: 100

Goals: 40

Assists: 11

(Statistics taken from all competitions

A textbook close-range header wrapped up the win for the hosts, and Ighalo’s haul for December saw him named the top flight’s player of the month. 

‘It was fantastic because nobody could imagine that Watford was going to beat Liverpool because they are a big side,’ Ighalo later revealed. ‘It was one of the best moments of my life and my career.’ 

But after impressing during the holiday period, Ighalo was unable to sustain his composure and embarked on a 599-minute barren spell. 

During his high-profile struggles, the ailing ace travelled with Watford to Old Trafford, the home of the club he supported from a young age. 

Ighalo highlighted his eagerness to score against United, with strike partner Troy Deeney even having to deliver a dressing down after a show of selfishness.

‘I remember Troy Deeney was telling me you have to calm down, because I was eager to score against Man United,’ Ighalo said. ‘Even some of the balls that I had close to the area I was supposed to pass it, but I wanted to shoot, I wanted to score myself, so Troy was not happy. 

‘You have to pass the ball. There was that passion, because I wanted to create history that I scored against my boyhood club, the club I was supporting when I was young.’ 

Ighalo recalled being told off by Troy Deeney after a selfish display against his current club

The ailing ace ended a 599-minute scoring drought after netting against Arsenal in the FA Cup

The scoring drought was finally brought to an end against Arsenal in the FA Cup quarter-finals, with the Nigerian star breaking the deadlock at the Emirates as Watford reached the final four of the competition for the first time in nine years.

But the following season entailed yet more disappointment for Ighalo, with just one league goal netted before a run of 15 games without finding the back of the net. 

The striker, visibly lacking in confidence, lost his place under Walter Mazzarri – despite rejecting a £300k-a-week deal with Hebei China Fortune in favour of penning a new five-year contract at Vicarage Road.

His connection with Deeney, which had often proved so fruitful for the club, suffered. The usual flicks and tricks that Ighalo typically relished latching on to gradually faded, and Watford eventually cut their losses for a grand sum with the writing truly on the wall.  

Ighalo joined Changchun Yatai for a reported £20million fee, and penned £190k-a-week terms. 

Ighalo’s connection with strike partner Deeney gradually faded before his transfer to China

The move to China, which generated a mixed reaction among the Watford faithful, came as a surprise with fellow top flight outfits Crystal Palace and West Brom also interested. 

And perhaps controversially, Ighalo admitted that the handsome wage packet on offer for both player and club proved pivotal.

He said: ‘Watford fans don’t know it but I had an offer from Crystal Palace on the table and West Bromwich but the club was looking for big money and that’s why I accepted Changchun Yatai at the time. 

‘So, instead of me sitting down there and not playing I had to move. When the opportunity came for me I accepted it because China could pay what Watford wanted. 

The 30-year-old has been eased into life at Old Trafford and will likely feature again on Sunday

‘But this is past tense now. I am happy and Watford are happy because they made a lot of money with me. And they are still my team in the Premier League.

‘I don’t know about other players. Maybe they go there for different ambitions. Me? Yes, I went there for the money I am honest but I don’t know why other players go there.’

Despite suffering relegation with Changchun Yatai, Ighalo was able to fashion an exit in the form of Shanghai Shenhua after scoring 36 goals for his previous club – and also turned down a shock move to Barcelona. 

His consistency in the Chinese Super League attracted a surprise offer from Manchester United, with the club desperate for reinforcements after Marcus Rashford’s injury woes. 

After being eased back into the rigours of the top flight, Ighalo will likely feature against the Hornets at Old Trafford – and will surely be afforded a warm welcome from both sets of supporters on Sunday afternoon.




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