Odion Ighalo was loaned to Manchester United on Deadline Day until the end of the season
Sunday 2 February 2020 14:38, UK
Gary Neville believes Manchester United's last-minute loan deal for Odion Ighalo underlines their poor planning in the transfer market.
Former Watford striker Ighalo, who has spent the last three years playing in China, is heading to Old Trafford on a short-term contract until the end of the season after United reached an agreement with Shanghai Shenhua on Deadline Day.
The 30-year-old will provide cover for the injured Marcus Rashford, but Neville is puzzled as to why his former club did not have long-term targets lined up following the departures of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez.
"They just needed a body in that area," he said ahead of Manchester United's meeting with Wolves. "Rashford's going to be out for another couple of months.
"I can't let the club off the hook though, unfortunately. Romelu Lukaku told us a couple of weeks ago that he had said he was going to leave last February or March.
"That's nine months to be able to manoeuvre and get into a position to sign a striker for the club for the long-term. And yet they have ended up desperately doing one on Deadline Day.
"The boy may do very well. He might come in and settle in, he might score goals and do a job for the club.
"But the fact that the club were in that position, knowing that Sanchez and Lukaku were leaving for many, many months, tells us that Manchester United, at this moment in time, are struggling to navigate through the transfer market smartly."
After United's 0-0 draw at Wolves, where they failed to produce a single clear-cut opportunity in the stalemate at Old Trafford, Neville said his former club's recruitment had specifically stalled in forward areas, despite considerable financial investment in attacking players in recent years.
"You can go back to Falcao, Di Maria, other players, Depay was young at the time, but players they've signed in forward areas on the pitch haven't been good enough," he said.
"You look at what Liverpool, Man City and Tottenham have done, and compare it to what Manchester United have done. If the recruitment is wrong you ultimately end up paying for it.
"The gameplan today was fine from United. If you were playing with Messi, Suarez and Neymar up front you'd probably play the same way against Wolves. You'd control the game and wait for that moment and one of your front three would go and deliver for you. United don't have that front three at the moment who can go and provide that moment of magic.
"They've signed Ighalo - maybe he can give a bit more presence in terms of putting crosses into the box.
"The fact is, United were chasing a goal at 0-0 and they've had to bring on Jesse Lingard and Diogo Dalot, that tells you exactly where Manchester United are at.
"The big problem with recruitment is I'm not quite sure who is in charge over the last seven or eight years. Who is behind the scenes spotting the players, making sure they are ahead of the game?"
Speaking on Sky Sports News on Deadline Day, meanwhile, former United centre-back Jaap Stam said of Ighalo: "He's got nothing to lose because nobody thought he would be a United player.
"United have the confidence in him. We're all a bit surprised, but he can just go in there and do his thing. We all want to see United get back up there.
"Like all former players and United supporters, we wish him well. He's joining a big family. Everybody within the club hopes that every player will do well and is going to perform.
"I'm sure he'll feel welcome and hopefully he's going to produce."
"He's now playing with better players than he was at Watford, so he will get more opportunities to score than at Watford.
"I'm sure he's got the ability. He wasn't their first choice, but you assume people have seen him and trust what he can bring."
Mark Hughes agrees that United's interest will have come as a shock to Ighalo - "he will be covered in bruises, as he will have been pinching himself all day," he said - but he believes the Nigerian is the kind of striker Solskjaer's side lacks.
"He's the type that United need, whether or not that's a long-term view Ole has in terms of where he wants to take the team," he added.
"I've watched them on a number of occasions and I always feel they lack that physicality at the top end of the pitch, just to relieve pressure.
"When United won at City and were getting pressed hard, they needed an outlet to knock it up to a big man who could retain possession and resist challenges.
"Without that physicality, sometimes you can't get out."
Paul Merson believes United have rolled the dice with their deal for a player who has spent the last three years of his career in China.
"Ighalo is a massive gamble," he said on Soccer Saturday. "This lad could run on the pitch and we all say 'Oh my God, what's happened here?'
"You feel for Mason Greenwood, but you're relieved for him too. Greenwood needs to come in when the team's playing well and is able to look after him."
Charlie Nicholas added: "It's a short-term fix. If he produces some of his old form, fair enough, because he was very good at Watford.
"But it's been a long time. He's way down the list on Edinson Cavani and players of that level."