Money push or Boyhood dreams: Will Odion Ighalo become the highest paid African footballer ever?

by Ogbeche Ohotuowo

Super Eagles Striker, Odion Ighalo is on the path to making great history in football while acquiring personal accolades.

Ighalo was playing for the Chinese football club, Shangai Greenland Shenhua before he signed his temporary loan deal with Manchester United, fulfilling his dream as a lifelong supporter of the English club. The purpose of the temporary loan transfer was to help close the gap the United team was suffering from Marcus Rashford’s absence due to a back injury.

It was always intended to be a short loan, but certain factors have influenced Manchester United’s decision to consider extending the loan to enable the player complete the season with the English team.

Before the coronavirus pandemic shook the world, forcing a lockdown and halt in football games, Ighalo had played in 8 games for Manchester United, scoring 4 goals in his 3 starts. Ighalo proved himself in those few matches, showing team spirit, dedication and hard work. He pushed himself and performed better than many expected, during this period.

It is now the end of May 2020, and we have come to the end of the time stated in the loan agreement between Manchester United and Shanghai Shenhua. However, Ole Solskjaer may not be quite ready to let Ighalo go.

Some Nigerians did not like it when Ighalo tweeted “Favour is better than Labour” upon his entry into Manchester United: they seem to think that the striker was not the right material for Manchester United at the time and that Ole could have found a better pick. But Ighalo has consistently sought to show that he is aiming for the stars, through increasing hard work.

Looking through Ighalo’s football trajectory and successes, particularly the recent ones, we see that they are not that of the average footballer, even though many people do not view him as an exceptional player. Since he started his career in Nigeria with local clubs, he has played in Italy, Spain, Norway, and now China and England. After his debut with the Nigerian national team in 2015, it seemed that his efforts were rewarded with maximum success, setting him apart from his peers.

More so, since the Premier League season was postponed, many clubs are temporarily extending players’ contracts which were supposed to close this summer, and the Nigerian star is one of the players United is open to retaining, or extending his stay. But Ighalo’s parent club, Shanghai Shenhua, also needs the footballer. The Chinese Super League season will begin also and the club needs Ighalo to tighten their squad to enable them have a successful season.

Shanghai Shenhua has now offered Ighalo a new deal for 3-and-a-half years, worth a whooping £400,000 a week. If Ighalo takes this deal, he is set to become the highest paid African footballer ever.

Although Manchester United would clearly prefer to have Ighalo extend his stay with his dream team, the club may not necessarily want a long term deal for Ighalo if he doesn’t fit within Solksjaer’s vision. But Ighalo has always been a fan of the English club and playing in Old Trafford for the team has been him literally ‘living his dream.’ If he had his way, will he follow this lifelong dream or choose the money?

In reality, this decision may end up being made by the two clubs – who can offer him a better deal? In any case, Ighalo’s Nigerian fans are majorly concerned about the huge amount of money the Chinese club is offering, not the player’s lifelong dream: many well-meaning fans have already quickly checked the exchange rate of pounds to naira.

Other African football players who are the highest earners in 2020 include the Ghanaian Asamoah Gyan at £300,000 weekly, Egyptian Mohammed Salah who reportedly makes £250,000 weekly while playing for Liverpool FC, and Gabonese Aubameyang whose place in Arsenal FC earns him a weekly wage of £180,000.

Odion’s proposed wages is however set to push him ahead of these African stars (regarding salaries) and even over legends like Samuel Eto’o, Yaya Toure, Didier Drogba and Seydou Keita.

For many Nigerians, the lessons they are learning from Odion’s Ighalo’s successes are twofold: “favour over labour”; and “My children must play football.”

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