There’s a lot of debate around what it is Man Utd need to get back to the top. On a weekly basis, I hear that they need to be appointing a Director of Football, making a few big name signings and/or getting rid of the Glazer family. All of which are fairly substantial and costly solutions.
I’m going to make the completely unsubstantiated argument that the answer to Man Utd’s problems is a simple one, but hard to attain. However, I think they may have already done it.
What is this simple solution I speak of? Two words – Cult hero.
Cult hero status is not an easy title to achieve. You could be the best player in the league, but it still wouldn’t grant you cult hero status. In fact, the majority of cult heroes aren’t even the best player at the club. They have an inexplicable quality about them which endears them to the fans. Sometimes it just takes one great performance and that’s it – you’re in their hearts forever.
The perfect example of this is Diego Forlan. Mention his name to Utd fans and I guarantee you’ll be met with a light chuckle, a short nostalgic pause and jovial shake of the head. The same reaction to the mention of an ex-girlfriend that used to do that thing with their finger they liked but also cut up their favourite pair of jeans because they looked at Becky’s arse.
Diego Forlan has that cult hero status with this performance at Anfield:
Outside of that match, he couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo. It didn’t matter. A dash of Dudek calamity and a pinch of thunderbolt were all the ingredients he needed.
Fast forward to today and the club doesn’t really have that player. The players that had potential to fulfil that status have failed. Martial started his Man Utd career with the magical winning goal against Liverpool which should have cemented him into cult status. However, his general lack of effort in big games and attitude feels like a solid middle finger to the fans.
The cult hero Man Utd crave is in their ranks and he goes by the name Odion Ighalo.
If you’re looking for a player to lift the club, this is your man. Yes, big money signing Bruno Fernandes will have to be virtually all of the cogs to get the Man Utd machine running, but the man to unite the club is Ighalo.
His signing was met with widespread disdain from supporters, but that only adds to his potential cult hero status. Even if you ignore his fairly decent start to his Man Utd career, he checks a lot of the cult hero boxes.
He arrived with such low expectations that every goal is like a bonus to the Utd fans. Playing in the Chinese league at 30 years old his European career was dead in the public eye. Then, out of the blue, he takes a pay-cut and signs for one of the biggest clubs in the world that so happens to be his boyhood club?! It’s a bloody fairy-tale.
This isn’t a “boyhood club” PR stunt either. Every time I see him in a Utd shirt, he’s beaming from ear to ear. It’s infectious. You can feel the authenticity when he speaks about his Man Utd support.
“Anyone who knows me back from when I was young knows me and my siblings supported Man United, we would pay to go and watch Man United play. In Nigeria, you have to have sports channels to watch that but not everyone can afford it. My parents couldn’t afford that so you have to pay a viewing centre to watch that. We would pay to watch that.
“I grew up in Ajegunle, which is like a ghetto and it was very difficult there. When it would get to the weekend, everybody was excited because they wanted to watch Man United play.
“You start saving the money they would give you to go to school. You would eat at home and they would give you some pocket money to go to school and maybe eat lunch there. But you would be saving it bit by bit and when you get to the weekend, everybody is ready.” – Ighalo speaking to Sky Sports.
My heart strings have been well and truly pulled. Everything is set up for Ighalo now. He just needs that one moment. The moment that’ll etch him into Man Utd folklore forever.
Yes, I’m well aware how ridiculous it sounds to bank Man Utd’s future on Ighalo, but sometimes it genuinely just takes that small catalyst to change a club’s fortunes. Wouldn’t it be just a bit special if it was a boyhood fan who’d all but given up on his dream of playing for the club? If you disagree, you’re dead inside.
So get behind him Utd fans. Buy his shirt in droves. Sing his song and let Ighalo drag you out of one of your darkest periods in the modern era.
On a side note, I’d like it known that I wrote this article a few hours before the Manchester derby. When he scores that 94th minute winner, jumps into the crowd with his shirt off and reveals his full body tattoo of Gary Neville displaying the badge to Liverpool fans, I want full credit.