Whether Odion Ighalo plays again for Manchester United must be decided by Sunday.
Ighalo was a last-minute January transfer window loan signing sanctioned by his club Shanghai Shenhua, who were unable to play because the Chinese Superleague was in lockdown due to the coronavirus at the time.
Many fans were initially disappointed with the signing but the Nigerian quickly turned into a cult hero at Old Trafford, scoring four goals in three starts and demonstrating huge and infectious joy and enthusiasm at playing for the club he has supported since he was a boy.
But then the coronavirus interfered with the 30-year-old’s destiny again, shutting down United’s season just as he was hitting his stride.
Normally loan contracts are signed until June 30th but in Ighalo’s case it was May 31st. And now the resumption of English football is set to coincide with the resumption of the Chinese Superleague so Shenhua are naturally refusing to extend the loan as he is needed to spearhead their attack at home.
No-one can blame the Chinese side for making this decision. It would be like United loaning, say, Marcus Rashford to a foreign side during off-season but then needing him back when the Premier League resumes.
It has been reported that the only way Ighalo can stay would be if a permanent deal can be agreed, but Shanghai are believed to be demanding in excess of £20 million for the 30-year-old. It is understood that United have not entered any kind of negotiation for such a permanent deal as yet.
Even if the Red Devils were tempted to stump up that kind of amount, Ighalo’s salary could be another issue. Whilst it has been reported he would be willing to take a pay cut to join United, getting anywhere near the £400,000 per week that he has been offered to extend with the Chinese side would be extremely hard to justify.
It seems that unless there is some unexpected last-minute change of heart on either side, the Nigerian will return to China on Monday morning, his fantasy Manchester United career having come and gone in the blink of an eye.
It is such a sad anti-climax to this fairy story, but Ighalo can take heart that in his shortest of short times at Old Trafford, he carved himself into Manchester United folklore as arguably the best loan signing the club ever made.
United might have to finish their Premier League season at neutral grounds as the authorities try to ensure player safety. How much do you know about those neither-home-nor-away games the Red Devils have played in the past? Take our quiz below to find out.