Odion Ighalo has promised to help Manchester United step into a brighter future after admitting the post-Alex Ferguson problems have left him “angry”.
The striker, a deadline-day loan signing from Shanghai Shenhua last month, scored his first goal for the Red Devils on his full debut in Thursday’s 5-0 Europa League thrashing of Club Brugge at Old Trafford.
A boyhood United fan, Ighalo described it as a “dream come true” to find the net in front of supporters who have quickly taken to a player signed as emergency cover in attack.
Ighalo has watched United go nearly seven years without winning the Premier League since Ferguson retired in 2013, while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side are alarmingly adrift of rivals Liverpool and Manchester City in this season’s title race and facing a battle even to secure Champions League football for next term.
Ighalo has found it difficult to endure United’s relative struggles from afar and is now determined to help them return to the top, even if his loan deal, which runs until the end of this season, does not turn into a longer-term arrangement.
“It feels great, at Old Trafford, hearing the fans singing my name. I’m very grateful for this moment. It’s a moment I will cherish for the rest of my life,” he said after his goal helped secure a 6-1 aggregate win in the last 32.
“The fans see me as one of their own because I came to this team because I want to play and because I supported them since I was young, and I want to do my best to help the team to move forward. They appreciate that and I appreciate them. From the first day I set foot in Manchester, they have been behind me. I promise them I’m going to give my best: win, lose… I don’t care about the circumstances. I’ll keep giving my best.
“There is transition in life in everything you’re doing. It’s difficult sometimes when the team is losing games; as a fan, you get angry. Now, in the club, I have to give my best to make sure we are winning and getting results. Some games, it’s going to be difficult because other teams are spending more money in the Premier League and in Europe, so it will be more difficult, but this team has young players and, working this way, I think we have a better future.”
Ighalo admits he is short of 100 per cent fitness, with his last appearance in China coming on December 6, but he is eager to impress his manager after admiring him as a player.
“I watched him when I was young,” Ighalo said. “I watched quite a lot of them: Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Ole, Teddy Sheringham. Playing for him now is great for me. I’m very happy.
“I’m just one of the team. We have to work together. I’m here to contribute.
“I’m getting better. The league is faster, sharper, I need more strength. I’m getting better every day but I’m not 100 per cent fit.”
United managing director Richard Arnold boasted in an investor call that the signing of Ighalo was the top trend worldwide on Twitter, overshadowing Brexit and Donald Trump, and Ighalo expects to have received plenty of messages after his display against Brugge.
“I’m happy because I know a lot of supporters on social media were waiting for this moment, for me to get my first goal,” he said. “I’ve not seen my phone yet but I know messages have been coming in, so I will thank everyone. Now, the work starts again. I have to keep pushing.”
Ighalo celebrated his goal by paying tribute to his sister, who passed away a little over a month before his move to Old Trafford was finalised.
“I lost my sister in December,” he added. “She’s a Man United fan. I prayed for this moment but unfortunately she’s not here to see me doing that. I promised I’d dedicate it to her if I scored and I’m happy I did that. Wherever she is, she’s happy.”