Odion Ighalo still does not know where he will play football next, with his Manchester United loan deal due to expire on May 31, but he wants to remain at Old Trafford for the rest of his career, according to the Nigerian’s personal trainer.
United are happy to extend Ighalo’s loan deal in order to allow him to play the season to a conclusion, but parent club Shanghai Shenhua want the 30-year-old back for the Chinese Super League’s restart. Ighalo himself would like a permanent deal, but United are not pursuing a transfer.
Despite the uncertainty over his immediate future, Ighalo’s trainer says he has pushed himself to his limits to ensure he is in the best physical condition to make a return to the Premier League.
“He’s a wonderful athlete, I’ve never seen someone more passionate about their job than him,” Ekemini Ekerette told Goal . “I think he’s in excellent physical condition. He loves the game. He just wants to train. Even if the league wasn’t going to played in the next three months he would keep training every day. He is so disciplined.
“His future was not making a difference to his intensity in training. He is just always focused on making sure he’s doing what he needs to do and then pushing himself even further.
“He’s a team player and has been talking about [Marcus] Rashford, [Anthony] Martial, [Mason] Greenwood, and how fantastic they all are, so he’s looking forward to hopefully getting to play with Rashford. He wants to stay and loves United, Ole [Gunnar Solskjaer] and the fans and he would love to be a Red for the rest of his life.”
Ighalo has impressed since arriving on the final day of the January transfer window, scoring four goals in three starts while his passion and desire have been praised by those around him.
When the United Kingdom went into lockdown in March, a number of the United first-team squad were given permission to fly home to isolate with their families, and Ighalo decided to travel back to his hometown of Lagos.
The club provided each player with a fitness programme and have been regularly checking in on the squad during the lockdown period to ensure they are doing well both mentally and physically.
A typical week following the club’s schedule would include running and core work on a Monday, rest on a Tuesday, bike work and a power programme for the legs on a Wednesday, rest on Thursday and more running on a Friday.
But Ighalo replaced his rest days with work including high intensity sessions, strength and conditioning and speed and agility programmes. It all took place under the watchful eye of Ekeretee, with whom he has been working with for the last two years.
And Ekerette has no doubt Ighalo is fit enough to start playing straight away.
“He’s a beast and he is ready to go right back into the game. He is a very passionate guy and you can tell that in the way he trains,” Ekerette said. “[Ole Gunnar] Solskjaer has been happy with him from what Ighalo has told me but he always thinks and knows he can do more and he’s ready to give more.
“We’ve been working on a lot of strength work and then he’s been able to do ball drills too.”
Ighalo has a football pitch at his home in Lagos and has been playing four-a-side games with members of his family, including his brothers and cousins who he has been isolating with in Nigeria.
The former Watford man returned to England last week after United asked players who were abroad to come back ahead of a potential return to training at the club’s Carrington training base, with the Premier League’s ‘Project Restart’ planned for June.
There has been plenty of concern raised about potential for injury due to the volume of games that will have to be played in such a short period of time. But Ekerette believes Ighalo is in peak physical condition and will be able to cope with the demands thrown at him.
“Even if he has to go and play three games a week, he is good to go,” he said. “We’ve made sure he’s done all the correct recovery and his muscles are prepared.”