Odion Ighalo believes it would be a no-brainer for Manchester United to keep the “exceptional” Paul Pogba and offered some advice to Edinson Cavani.
Ighalo spent 12 months on loan at Man Utd between January 2020 and the first month of 2021. He was a surprise signing at the time but made a decent impact in his first half-season. However, following the summer arrival of Cavani, his opportunities became limited.
Now at Al Shabab in Saudi Arabia, Ighalo is back in his former role with Man Utd – a supporter.
And the striker believes that the club should do all they can to keep his former teammate Pogba, who is out of contract in 2022. Agent Mino Raiola has cast doubt on Pogba’s future but Ighalo wants to see United keep the World Cup winner.
“He’s one of the best players I’ve played with and one of the best players at Manchester United,” Ighalo told Sky Sports. “Apart from playing on the pitch, he’s a good guy in the dressing room, a funny guy.
“He’s always happy. The only time he isn’t happy is when he’s not playing and I can understand that. Everyone wants to play.
“If Manchester United have the opportunity to keep him on a new, longer deal, they should because he is so influential.
“Sometimes he doesn’t have the best of games, but that’s normal. You can’t be 100% in every game. But when he turns up, like he did yesterday against Tottenham, he is exceptional.”
Someone else with a future in doubt at Old Trafford is Cavani, whose contract expires even earlier this summer. There is the option to extend it for one more year, but the Uruguayan may return to South America instead.
Ighalo wants to see the man who effectively limited his own opportunities at the club stay, though.
“Every player has a different ambition, different needs, and needs to decide what they have to do,” he said. “He’s a good player and a good striker, there’s no doubt about that and if the opportunity comes up to go somewhere else, then that’s fine.
“But for me, this is the team I have supported from being a child so I would always take the option of staying.
“Whatever decision he makes though, I wish him all the best and good luck to him.”
While Ighalo says he would personally choose to stay at United, he wasn’t able to himself when his loan expired. However, he revealed that he did have other offers to stay in the Premier League.
“There wasn’t much possibility [to stay at United] because I wanted more playing time,” he said. “At my age, I want to play and not just sit on the bench and not have any minutes.
“I didn’t just want to be there picking up a salary; I wanted to be involved. So I said to my agent that if an offer comes in, I will look at it and see what’s best for me, which is what I did.
“I’m so happy that my path crossed with Manchester United. It’s the club I love with all my heart and for all my life. So playing for them was a big privilege that I do not take for granted.
“No matter the circumstances that led me to leave, I will always be grateful to the coach, my team-mates, the fans, and everyone around Manchester United.
“There was the possibility of West Ham and West Brom to stay in the Premier League, which I thought about.
“But after being at Manchester United, the biggest club in England if not the world, what else could I possibly do in the Premier League?
“I had good offers to stay in England. But I just didn’t think I could stay after achieving my dream of playing for the club I had supported since I was young.
“I came all the way from China because it was Manchester United when I had already rejected other offers because United has always been my dream.”
One of the offers Ighalo rejected was from Tottenham, he went on to explain.
“That was close,” he admitted. “My agent called me and told me they had offered to match whatever I was earning. But once I heard Manchester United were interested, there was no turning back.
“I couldn’t think about anything else other than making the Manchester United deal work. I was going to have to take a pay cut but I didn’t care, I just wanted the deal to happen, I just wanted to play for Manchester United.
“It’s my dream club and it was always going to be a privilege for me to play at Old Trafford.
“I’m just so grateful to God that it happened. Every day I wake up and I know that I am an ex-Manchester United player. It is something that I will never take for granted.”
Ighalo outlines Solskjaer strengths
Ighalo’s coach at United was Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who has spent two-and-a-half years in the manager’s role.
The 31-year-old shed light on Solskjaer’s strongest attributes, pointing to his positive attitude and man-management.
“He knows how to manage the boys and talks to you, especially when you are not playing,” Ighalo said.
“He’s a good guy, a calm guy, and I never saw him get angry – perhaps during a game when we were losing but the day after that it was totally forgotten because the next game was always more important than the last one.
“I have massive respect and time for him and thanks to him, I had the opportunity to play for Manchester United. Without him, that would not have been possible, so I am always grateful to him, no matter what.
“He’s an intelligent coach. Tactically he’s good but with a team like Manchester United, a big team with a lot of good players, everyone wants to play.
“So sometimes it’s difficult for the coach. But he understands that and when you have a coach who can manage that, then it is really good.”