Odion Ighalo reflects on 'dream' spell at Man United, would love Premier League return

Nigeria and former Manchester United striker Odion Ighalo says he would grab a chance to return to the Premier League 'with both hands', and told ESPN that he would support the Red Devils 'till death'.

Ighalo, now with Saudi Arabian giants Al Hilal, was the first Nigerian to play for United when he went there on loan in 2020, even taking a pay cut to move to the club he'd supported since childhood.

He played in 12 league fixtures, but made his mark in the Europa League and FA Cup before COVID-19 cut his deal short.

Winning trophies was not something he experienced at Manchester United, despite the club's rich and trophy-laden history, but he looks back at his time there with pride.

Ighalo told ESPN: "In years to come, you need something to show your children... I have been talking to my children about Manchester United, the experience.

"I left Old Trafford with pride, with my head up, because it was my dream team and not everybody's dream comes to pass. Mine came to pass so every day of my life, I'm grateful.

"To be the first Nigerian to play there and so far the only Nigerian, those are great achievements for me and I did well so I'm happy for that."

Ighalo scored five goals for United, and although his playing time became restricted as his loan deal wound down, the Nigerian said he had no regrets about his time at Old Trafford.

He added: "The atmosphere in Old Trafford is different. It is a big club. If you're not inside, you don't know how big the club is. It is a massive, massive, massive club.

"So, I thank God I played for the biggest club in the world, it's an achievement for me and when you say, "what I should do better?". I think I did everything I should do. I worked hard, I scored a few goals and I'm happy.

"I don't have one regret, I have zero regrets for my time at Manchester United. They are still my team till today and I'm going to support that team to death.

"Even when they are struggling, I will still support them because it is Red Devils all the way."

Before moving to Saudi Arabia at the end of his loan spell with United, Ighalo had the chance to join West Ham or West Bromwich Albion but turned down both offers.

He now says if an opportunity came again to return to the Premier League, he would be open to it: "Of course, the Premier League is the best league in the world and if I have the opportunity to go back, why not, I will grab it with both hands.

"But for now, I am happy where I am and looking forward to playing week in, week out. If an opportunity comes again in the Premier League, I will study it and if it is good for me, why not?"

His most recent encounter with English opposition came when Al Hilal faced Chelsea in the Club World Cup, and Ighalo is still annoyed that he failed to prevent the Blues from progressing towards the final trophy they needed to complete the set.

Ighalo recently joined Asian champions Al Hilal from Saudi rivals Al Shabab, and was on hand to help them set up the enticing tie against Chelsea when he opened the scoring for them as they romped to a 6-1 win over Al Jazira in their opening game of the tournament.

After such a great start, the former Red Devil said he believed he was primed to score against the Blues. That personal objective coming into the game meant that the Hilal fans were just as pumped for him.

"I was looking forward to that game," he said. "Al Hilal is a big club here and they have a huge fan base.

"They were telling me to score against Chelsea and being a former Manchester United player, that was extra motivation for me going into that game.

"When I was at Watford, I scored against them [Chelsea] and playing against a team like that you want to do well, you want to show up because scoring against teams like that, seeing it in your CV is always motivating."

Ighalo, who started the game upfront, had a chance to score late in the game, but saw his close range shot blocked by Thiago.

In the end, the Nigerian and Al Hilal were shut out by the English club, who went on to finish as champions with a 2-1 win over Palmeiras in the final while Ighalo and co went on a tailspin, losing their third place playoff to Egypt's Al Ahly.

"Chelsea are a big team," he conceded. "It was always going to be a much tougher game but we hope to do much better next time because this is a massive team."

That size and ambition is part of what led the 32-year-old Nigerian to cross the corridor from Al Shabab, after a spat with the latter when they refused to released him to play for Nigeria at Africa Cup of Nations.

"I was not happy with them and we decided to part ways because the Nations Cup that I didn't go to caused a lot of bad blood," Ighalo said.

According to the forward, the club were supposed to issue him an exit visa in order to allow him travel to Cameroon, but did not do so.

He said: "Four hours until my flight [to Cameroon], they had not sent me the exit visa. I called the team manager, and he told me they did not get an invitation. But I had a copy of the invitation that was sent because they copied me in the email.

"We had all this back and forth going on, I changed the ticket to the next day, and then the third day, and they still did not send me the visa. At that point I knew they did not want me to go.

"My anger was that they should have told me straight up, not smiling in my face one day and then acting a different way. That is why I decided to leave."

Having joined Al Hilal, the forward says he wants to help them continue their title-winning traditions: "They won the last two league titles, they won the last two Asian Champions League, the League and the Cup.

"It's up to me to join the guys and keep winning trophies."