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Odion Ighalo — The footballer turning Nigerians into Manchester United fans

He may not be a global superstar but Manchester United’s newest signing is still influential enough to convince fans to change the team they support.

Odion Ighalo’s deadline day loan from Shanghai Shenhua to the Premier League club was one of the biggest surprises of the January transfer window — and the move has made waves back in his home country, Nigeria.

The 30-year-old already has Premier League experience, appearing 99 times for Watford between 2014 and 2017, but the reaction back home to Ighalo’s signing shows the worldwide global appeal an ailing Manchester United still possesses.

“It was crazy because all over the news for the last few days is about my deal to Man United,” Ighalo told the club’s website. “Even the street I grew up on, they are doing parties, celebrating Ighalo signing for United.

“They sent me the video, I was just laughing and happy because many of them are supporting Man United and some of them are supporting some other teams in the Premier League.

“But they said, because of me, they are moving to United because they have a very big fan-base in Nigeria. So I am happy about all this and they are rooting for United from now on.”

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When Ighalo steps onto the pitch to make his Manchester United debut he will make history as the first Nigerian to play for the club.

Many saw the last-ditch signing as a sign of desperation from Manchester United, which is without star striker Marcus Rashford until the end of the month through injury, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hopes to lead the club to a Champions League place.

But Ighalo’s impressive record of 39 goals in 99 games for Watford means he won’t be listening to the naysayers and will wear the red shirt with pride.

“I’m really proud. I’m happy because people keep sending me messages: ‘I know that this is very big, you’re going to be the first Nigerian to play for United, it’s a good record for you in your career.’

“I know that after you finish football, you are going to know what we are talking about, because I’m just so emotional right now, so I don’t think about those things too much. I just want to get started and get playing and start helping the team to do well.”

‘Dreams do come true’

As has seemingly become customary when a media trained player signs for a club, he often tells his new employers that it has always been his “dream” to play for them.

However, for Ighalo that is genuinely the case.

He gave his agent instructions to do whatever it would take to ensure he could sign for United.

“I’m very happy. First, I want say thank God for making this happen and it’s just like a dream come true for me because I know many people used to say when they join a team, they say that they dream of playing for that team,” he says.

“Mine was not the case. I supported the team when I was young. People that know me, even back in Nigeria, and even when I was

“I told my agent that this is what I want. I want to come here. He said: ‘You’re going to get a pay-cut to go to United. I said: ‘I don’t care. Make this deal happen. I want to go to United. I don’t care how much is the pay-cut, make it happen.'”

Ighalo recalls growing up back home and cheering on Manchester United with his football-mad siblings, when Andy Cole was scoring goals for the club in one of its most dominant eras.

Those glory days feel like an age ago for fans who have seen the club slip well behind its English and European rivals.

Ighalo readily admits the thought of ever having the chance to join his boyhood club never crossed his mind but he’s determined to help fire United to its former heights while he’s in Manchester.

“People support Man United a lot back there in Nigeria, so I developed that love because all of my siblings, they are Man United fans,” he says.

“I never thought this was going to happen, but dreams do come true, so I’m very happy to be here and this is going to be a big and good challenge for me in my career.”

CNN