Odion Ighalo has added a much-needed physical presence to Manchester United's attack, according to Rio Ferdinand, who thinks the experienced forward has already earned a permanent contract.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took a late gamble in the January transfer window as he sought an extra striker to provide cover for the injured Marcus Rashford, turning to a man who had spent the last three years of his career in the Chinese Super League.
Ighalo joined United on a six-month loan deal from Shanghai Shenhua on deadline day, returning to the Premier League after a previous stint at Watford between 2015 and 2017.
The surprise move was initially seen as a damning indictment of how far the Red Devils have fallen in terms of recruitment, but the Nigerian has managed to defy his critics and play his part in an impressive unbeaten run.
Ighalo has found the net four times in his first three starts for United, showing off his ability to hold the ball up and bring others into play while pushing first-choice frontman Anthony Martial to raise his game.
Goal has learned that the 30-year-old is open to extending his stay at Old Trafford beyond the summer, but his future is very much up in the air amid the coronavirus pandemic which had gripped the world.
With the 2019-20 currently on hiatus, it is not yet known when the transfer market will reopen or indeed when normal service can resume at clubs across the Premier League.
Ferdinand says that Ighalo has managed to prove him and everybody else wrong over the last few months and that he would be delighted to see United hand him a full-time contract.
"Wow, eight games, three starts in that, four goals and one assist. Ighalo, do you sign him for Manchester United now?" the ex-Red Devils defender said during a Q&A on Instagram.
"All the people that out there that were saying: 'What are we doing signing Ighalo? What’s going on? What’s Ole thinking?' – I was one of them, I have to admit it.
“Ighalo’s been in China, the league’s nowhere near what the Premier League is so how is he going get up to speed? Is he going to be ready straight away? We need somebody to come and make an impact immediately. Coming from China, impossible.
"Well, he’s proved us all wrong. This guy has proved us all wrong. It’s refreshing to see someone who is like a supporter, who is thankful.
"He looks like he’s absolutely delighted to be at Manchester United. He’s been a Manchester United supporter his whole life. He looks like he’s saying 'thank you' every day he walks up to Ole for giving him this opportunity.
"He’s not someone who says 'Manchester United are lucky to have me here' – that’s the vibe I’ve got for a little while and that’s not just United, that’s other clubs as well.
"This boy looks like he’s happy to be here: 'Whatever you tell me to do I’m going to go out there and do it to the best of my ability. I’m going to give you 100 per cent every day in training and in matches because I love this club and I want to do right by this club'. I love it.
"It’s shocked me to see what he’s done. Listen, we’re not talking like he’s turned Man United into world-beaters but United needed something and he’s brought it in and given it and that’s all you can ask for.
"And I think he’s warranted the opportunity to come in as a full-time player and what he’s given Manchester United which they didn’t have is someone they can pass the ball into and can hold it up, he’s got a physical presence, he can hold off a defender or two and lay the ball in for someone else to score."
Ferdinand went on to draw comparisons between Ighalo and Henrik Larsson, the Swedish poacher who became a cult favourite among United fans after a three-month loan spell at Old Trafford back in 2007.
"[Marcus] Rashford, when he’s fit, will appreciate playing with someone like this," Ferdinand continued. "He can have the impact on the Rashfords, on the Martials, on Daniel James etc. That someone like Larsson, who can have [an influence] on the likes of [Wayne] Rooney and [Louis] Saha when he was there.
"That little bit of experience. He’s got something that’s different to all the other guys in the team and you need that sometimes."