Odion Ighalo has made it clear Manchester United would be a dream move for him, and the Red Devils should ensure that comes to pass.
Speaking to the Sun (h/t Sky Sports), Ighalo said:
There has been speculation from Spain and Italy but I've played there and now want to play in England.
I don't think I will be moving but I'm not sure I'd say no if United called. They were my team growing up. I loved watching Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke on TV. They were my idols and playing at Old Trafford has always been a dream.
Ighalo's form in this season's Premier League has been vital for Watford, and the club's manager, Quique Sanchez Flores, said "it is completely impossible" that either Ighalo or strike partner Troy Deeney would be sold during the January transfer window, per the Press Association (h/t the Guardian).
However, manager Louis van Gaal and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward should test that resolve and offer to make Ighalo's dream come true.
BBC Sport @BBCSport
Odion Ighalo says he loves Manchester United, but is committed to #Watfordfc https://t.co/lriZ2zjElf https://t.co/UdyQpKoT6Z1/7/2016, 8:17:52 PM
The Nigeria international has scored 14 goals so far in this league campaign, just under three times as many as Anthony Martial, United's leading scorer—though Martial has another couple in European competition.
All his goals have come from inside the penalty area, with just three coming from inside the six-yard box. His performances have been that of an all-round striker rather than a poacher. His technical ability would make him a good fit for Van Gaal's approach.
Like Martial, he is fond of taking on his opponent, attempting an average of three dribbles per 90 minutes of football and succeeding with 1.4 of them—a very decent hit rate.
Ighalo's Premier League form is not a flash in the pan. Indeed, it is an extension of his excellent form as part of Watford's promotion push from the Championship last term. He scored 20 goals in 34 appearances, which is even more impressive when it is noted they were scored at a rate of 0.9 per 90 minutes of football.
Squawka Football @Squawka
Odion Ighalo has scored 30 goals in his last 38 league appearances for Watford. Man in demand. https://t.co/YRhPt7567z1/7/2016, 3:57:53 PM
The one warning note would be his time at Watford has been by far the most successful of his career so far. In three seasons in Spanish football with Granada, he never managed more than six goals in a single league campaign.
However, at 26 years old, Ighalo's form may just represent him coming into his own as a footballer rather than some kind of outlying purple patch.
As he said above, he wants to play in England, and the football—particularly Watford's 4-4-2 and his partnership with Deeney—is clearly suiting him well.
United's need for additional firepower is evidenced by the paucity of goals so far this season. Of course, scoring more goals is not as simple as buying in players who are scoring goals elsewhere, but a switch to a 4-4-2—as suggested by B/R's Sam Tighe—could be combined with bringing in Ighalo.
Squawka Football @Squawka
Highest assist to scorer combinations this season: Özil to Giroud (6) Deulofeu to Lukaku (6) Albrighton to Mahrez (5) Deeney to Ighalo (5)1/3/2016, 12:41:15 PM
Even if Van Gaal is not minded to switch things around—though, as Tighe writes, he should be—Ighalo has displayed a degree of positional flexibility this season. Though he has mostly played up front, he has had a couple of run-outs at No. 10 and even started a game wide on the left. That kind of versatility will sound like music to Van Gaal's ears.
Although Flores was bullish about his side holding onto their prized assets in January, the truth is United could exert significant pull on Ighalo. Watford are outperforming expectations and sit in ninth place in the table, but the sizes of the two clubs are vastly different. For all United's uncertainties, Old Trafford still represents a huge step up from Vicarage Road.
Ighalo—proven against Premier League opposition, versatile, a good technical fit and a boyhood Manchester United fan—would be an excellent addition to Van Gaal's squad.
Advanced statistics from WhoScored.com where not otherwise stated.
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