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Odion Ighalo & Man Utd: It's all about timing - just ask Josh King

COMMENT: Football's been good to Odion Ighalo. Particularly these past three years. And for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United, there's nothing wrong with bringing in a striker who has the knack of being in the right place at the right time...

It really did all fall Ighalo's way on Friday night. Even by his Norwegian agent Atta Aneke's admission, it just all clicked into place for the Nigerian - right up to the deal being rubberstamped just minutes before the deadline fell.

Aneke, who first brought Ighalo to Europe and Lyn almost 13 years ago, admits it was all put together in the early part of last week. United needed a striker. Ighalo had been made available by Shanghai Shenhua. And the pair weren't looking for the world. If United wanted him, Ighalo wasn't going to talk his way out of a deal.

And why not? China has been good for Ighalo. Two years with Changchun Yatai. A season with giants Shanghai Shenhua. The former Watford striker is now regarded as the richest athlete in Nigeria. Even those close to Shanghai Shenhua have said in the last 48 hours, "He's made his fortune, now he wants a European career again".

"I talked to Manchester United's top boss (Ed Woodward) for a few days in advance," recounted Aneke in the aftermath. "It was quiet on Thursday, and then I got the impression that nothing would happen. Suddenly, in the middle of the day on Friday, things started to move. It was then at 11 in the evening in Shanghai.

"It was hectic phone business. Everyone had to stay awake until 5-6 am on the Shanghai morning."

That sudden flurry of phone calls and texts were sparked by Bournemouth's asking price for Joshua King on Friday deadline day morning. As announced at the time, the Cherries had demanded double what United were offering for their former trainee. The £20m proposal slapped away by a Bournemouth board which were prepared to sell. Eddie Howe, the Bournemouth manager, conceded as much in his pre-match presser just an hour later.

For Solskjaer, bringing King back to Old Trafford made sense. A good, consistent Premier League performer. A player who knew the club, it's culture. And one Solskjaer knew well. Even at the £40m Bournemouth were demanding, the United manager was prepared to green light it - if King had been ready to roll. But with the Norway international nursing a hamstring strain and suggestions on Bournemouth's side that it could be March before he'd be available, the deal was quickly knocked on its head.

As Aneke attests, the morning was all about King. But after midday, United's sole focus was on closing the deal that had been put in place earlier that week.

For King, it must be a heartbreaker. A former United player. Someone who had privately challenged himself to return to Old Trafford. The opportunity had suddenly appeared. Only the timing of his hamstring strain could not have been worse. For the moment, he's kept his own counsel. And the manner of victory over Aston Villa has allowed Bournemouth to quickly move on. King's absence on Saturday actually a benefit just 24 hours after he was the big story of deadline day.

But it should be said that all parties behaved impeccably on the day. There was no last-minute transfer request slapped in. No unauthorised dash to Carrington for a medical. Not even a public utterance from King and his management team. For his part, Solskjaer behaved the same, refusing to name-check his countryman when pushed that morning. Only Howe's words gave the story legs.

No doubt we'll hear from King soon. And it does have the ring of Fabio Coentrao's deadline day heartbreak almost seven years ago. The then Real Madrid fullback watching with Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani as his on-off move to Old Trafford eventually fell through. Was the Portuguese's career ever the same?

But King will know. This is football. And in this game, timing is everything.

Ighalo was fit. But it went deeper than that. The coronavirus concern had delayed the start of the Chinese Premier League. There was also confusion about his eligibility for the Asian Champions League. Basically, Shanghai Shenhua were eager to get a deal done. The heavy lifting had been done earlier in the week. Aneke had put it all in place. All Woodward had to do was confirm Shanghai Shenhua's approval. Timing was everything.

For Ighalo it's a great story. As it is for Aneke. They've been together for 13 years, spanning seven different clubs. At 30, this Nigerian, plying his trade on the other side of the world, is about to pull on the shirt of the biggest club in the game.

"He has been a United supporter since childhood. It's incredibly big," says Aneke. "When he left for China, he did not expect to be brought back (to Europe) by United as a 30-year-old.

"He's an amazing person. If you see what he's doing off the field ... He has opened an orphanage with 20-30 kids, who are now also allowed to go to school. Every month he sends money to widows from the area he is from in Nigeria. He is a person who is successful. He is not one of those who thinks of himself."

Indeed, after Ighalo's success with Watford every major agent wanted a piece of him. But he never skipped out on Aneke. Their relationship a rare one at this level of the game.

"It's great when you see players like him. He has been loyal since day one. I have worked with him for 13 years. So it's extra fun to see him be rewarded this way," adds Aneke.

Aneke also revealed, "Not until after the transfer was in order. I received a nice message congratulating me as the agent."

That "nice message" was from none other than Solskjaer. Given the United manager's attitude towards some representatives, there's something to be said that he chose to reach out to Aneke after this one was done.

Timing's one thing. Relationships are another. And loyalty's something else. It's no stretch to suggest Ighalo wouldn't be touching down at Manchester airport this morning if he was with another agent.

On Friday afternoon, it did all fall into place for Odion Ighalo. But more than timing and sheer luck, the career decisions of this 30 year-old journeyman gave him every opportunity to be available to grab this once-in-a-lifetime chance.

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Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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