Odion Ighalo vowed to dedicate every goal to his late sister after the Manchester United fan netted on a dream first start for the club.
The 30-year-old last month completed a shock loan move from Shanghai Shenhua, allowing the ex-Watford striker to realise what had appeared to be a pipe dream of playing for the team he has always supported.
Ighalo has quickly ingratiated himself to United fans and marked his first start for the club with a maiden goal during Thursday’s 5-0 Europa League shellacking of Club Brugge at Old Trafford.
But the fulfilment of his childhood ambitions has come at a time of grief for the striker, who revealed a picture during his celebrations of his late sister, Mary.
“I lost my sister in December,” he said. “She is a Man United fan. We prayed for this moment to play for United.
“Unfortunately, she is not here to see me doing that. I promised I would dedicate every goal I scored.
“I am happy that I did that and wherever she is, she is happy that I’m doing that and she is doing great.”
A post shared by Odion Jude Ighalo (@ighalojude) on Dec 13, 2019 at 9:32am PST
Mary would have been proud of the way her brother has started life at Old Trafford.
Getting fitter all the time having arrived from China and initially kept away from the team-mates due to coronavirus fears, Ighalo looked sharp on his first United start.
“This is what I dreamt of,” he said. “I dreamt of playing for United and scoring my first goal. I’m very happy for that.
“It feels great. Old Trafford, seeing the fans singing my name, screaming for me. I’m very grateful.
“I waited for this moment and this is a moment I will cherish for the rest of my life.”
Ighalo’s hunger and passion has quickly seen the striker embraced by United’s fans, who could not be blamed for initially questioning a move that trended on Twitter ahead of Brexit and President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial.
“They see me as one of their own because I came to this team because I supported them from young, and I want to give my best to do whatever it takes to move forward,” he said.
“They appreciate that and I appreciated them from the first day I stepped on the field in Manchester.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) February 27, 2020
“They have been behind me and I hope it continues like that. I promise them I will give my best, win, lose – I don’t care about the circumstances, I will keep giving my best.”
Asked about the social media impact that managing director Richard Arnold told investors about this week, Ighalo said with a smile: “I’m happy because I know a lot of United supporters are waiting for this moment to get my first goal.
“I’ve not seen my phone yet, but I know messages have been coming in so I want to thank everyone that supported me. Now the work starts again. We have to keep pushing and getting results for the team.”
Being a fan gives Ighalo a unique insight into the demands of being a United player, having felt the frustration of the post-Sir Alex Ferguson years.
My visit to Old Trafford back in 2013 as fan and now I will be playing in Old Trafford😊 God is the greatest 🙏🏾 pic.twitter.com/BDW6v2Cxm8
— Odion Jude Ighalo (@ighalojude) February 5, 2020
“There is transition in life in everything you do, so it is difficult sometimes as when the team is losing games, as a fan you get angry,” said the striker, who grew up watching the likes of Solskjaer, Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke and Teddy Sheringham.
“Now I’m in the club I have to give my best to make sure we try to win and get results.
“Some games are going to be difficult because some big teams are spending more money in the Premier League and Europe.
“It is going to be more difficult, but I think this team, we have young players and working this way, I think we have a better future.”