New Manchester United striker Odion Ighalo is training away from the club due to the coronavirus epidemic and has not joined the squad’s training camp in Spain as a result of fears that he would not be allowed back into England.
United coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted that Ighalo was unable to travel with his teammates to their winter training camp because customs officials might ban him from returning to England.
Ighalo completed the paperwork on a last-minute loan deal from Chinese club Shanghai Greenland Shenhua at the end of the January transfer window, but has been training away from United’s Carrington base as part of precautions over the virus which has killed more than 1,300 people in China and was identified in the UK for the first time this week.
“Of course, he might have liked to have come with the players and got to know them, but we don’t want to take that risk,” Solskjaer told the club’s official website, having seen his plans hampered by the virus which apparently originated in Wuhan and has infected around 60,000 people in China, where Ighalo played for three years until making the switch on February 1.
“Odion will stay in Manchester, because since he has come from China in the last 14 days, the news of the virus there means we’re not sure if he’s going to be allowed back into England if he leaves the country again.
“So he’s staying here working with a personal coach on an individual programme and his family then can settle in England as well. That’s a plus.”
Ighalo has posted photos and videos of his strength and conditioning sessions at the National Taekwondo Centre, which is on the other side of the city from United’s training headquarters and less than two miles from rivals Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium.
He has been supported by fitness coach Wayne Richardson, who said Ighalo had been doing “hard work” and called the 30-year-old a “fantastic athlete.”
Solskjaer expects Ighalo to be available for the Premier League trip to Chelsea on Monday, confirming: “He is going to travel with us. We will just see his fitness work this week and I think we will get him sharp.
“We want to integrate him as quickly as we can because, of course, he is desperate to play for us.
“We want players here who want to give everything they’ve got and I know Odion.
“He played in Norway and he’s got such a lovely personality, a great character and he’s going to come in and be a big, big boost for himself, his family, his country, but also our group.”
The visit to Stamford Bridge, where United need to win to have a realistic chance of reeling in opponents who are six points ahead of them in the final Champions League qualification place, comes two days after Ighalo’s two-week isolation period ends.
Ighalo’s parent club has seen its Chinese Super League and Asian Champions League fixtures postponed by the Chinese Football Association.
Domestic fixtures in China were initially scheduled to resume on February 22, but they have now been delayed indefinitely, with teams including Dalian Yifang, who are coached by former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez, opting to stay at training camps in Spain until at least March.
An Asian Olympics women’s qualifying tournament between Australia, China, Taiwan and Thailand will now take place in Sydney, having already been moved from Wuhan to Nanjing.