China move might be just what Ighalo needs to reignite his career
Odion Ighalo completed his move from Watford to Chinese club Changchun Yatai on deadline day after passing a medical and agreeing personal terms.
The move brings an end to a nightmarish last few months for the Nigerian striker, who has found goals hard to come by this term after seemingly firing them in for fun last season. A consequence of the lack of goals was that Ighalo lost his place in the starting lineup, and the player subsequently asked for a transfer.
"I told them I wanted to move," Ighalo told ESPNFC. "If I wasn't going to play, then I needed to go somewhere where I could play."
Ighalo's initial expectation was that he would remain in England, especially after West Brom, and later Crystal Palace came with offers. But ultimately he was left feeling disappointed when neither club could match Watford's demands, and he was in essence shipped off to Asia. Disappointed as he will be with the outcome, Ighalo expects to do rediscover his touch in the Chinese league.
Comfort will come in the form of history. In the last few years, three high profile Nigerian players have moved to China and made a success of their time there. Peter Utaka left Danish club Odense BK for China before all the money started pouring in. In 80 appearances for three clubs, Utaka fired off 37 goals. An average of just under a goal every two games. This tally included a league record setting 11-game consecutive scoring streak.
If Utaka's lack of Premier League experience were to discount him as an unfair comparison, look no further than Yakubu Aiyegbeni and Obafemi Martins. The Yak joined Guangzhou R&F from Portsmouth in his dotage, and proceeded to rattle off 24 goals from 43 appearances before decline set in and he was forced to move on.
Martins is not only the more recent example, but a current one. The former Newcastle striker still turns out for Shanghai Shenhua, the club he joined from Major League Soccer's Seattle Sounders last year, and his record of 9 goals from 23 appearances is anything but shabby. Again, just shy of a goal every other game.
There is nothing like a change in environment and teammates to spur a player to break away from his comfort zone, determined to do better. In fairness, goals apart, Ighalo is exactly the sort of player whose unselfish habits make his teammates, and strike partners look good. Ighalo opened in good form when he moved to Granada from Udinese in 2009, and also did the same when he moved to England, taking little time to find his feet. He himself admits that this change of scenery might be just what he needs to hit it off with the ball again.
"It's a new challenge, a new environment and it gives me a chance to start again. Maybe that is what I need, a different environment, a different challenge to return to my best form."
And this might turn out to be an ever so slightly less difficult challenge than that of the Premier League. It might sound a bit disrespectful, but the truth is that the Chinese Super League is not at the level where it can compete with the Premier League. And despite his current dry spell, Ighalo has proven that he can score goals against the world's best defenders in the league he is saying goodbye to.
The Chinese league might not be a piece of cake, but surely he can conjure at least ten goals there somewhere. Especially when most of the signature purchases have been strikers and midfielders as opposed to defenders.
He is also somewhat fortunate that Nigeria national team captain John Mikel Obi is also in China. That should help to quash any thoughts of his moving there marking the end of his international career. In any case, Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr has made it clear he will call up Mikel despite the geography of his employers. That should apply to Ighalo too.
Colin Udoh is a Nigeria football correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ColinUdoh.