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February 15, 2019

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Nigeria ace Ighalo joins Shenhua

Nigeria international striker Odion Ighalo has joined Shanghai Greenland Shenhua from relegated Changchun Yatai, the Chinese Super League club announced yesterday.

The 29-year-old Ighalo was the second-highest scorer in last year’s CSL with a total of 21 goals — six fewer than top scorer Wu Lei of Shanghai SIPG, who recently joined La Liga side Espanyol.

Last month, Shenhua approved Senegal striker Demba Ba’s request to end his contract with the club six months in advance. Ighalo seems like a direct replacement, with the Nigerian having expressed his intention of staying in the CSL following Changchun’s relegation.

Changchun signed Ighalo from English Premier League side Watford in 2017 for a transfer fee of 20 million pounds (US$25.7 million). With one more year left on his contract, Changchun was reluctant to accept an offer for less than that amount.

The figure obviously surpasses the Chinese Football Association’s foreign player transfer fee limit of 45 million yuan for unprofitable CSL clubs, meaning Shenhua would have to pay the association a certain amount of compensation for breaking the limit.

The deal was put on hold for a while before the two clubs reached an agreement involving two of Shenhua’s young defenders, Li Xiaoming and Xu Xiao. As part of the deal, Li and Xu have joined Changchun to play in the second-tier Chinese League One this year. Ighalo’s transfer fee has not been revealed by either side, but it is expected to be within the CFA’s limit.

Ighalo, who played for Watford from 2014 to 2017, is an old acquaintance of Shenhua’s Spanish manager Enrique “Quique” Sanchez Flores who coached the EPL side from 2015 to 2016. Sanchez Flores led Watford to a mid-table position and the semifinals of the FA Cup in the 2015-16 season, while Ighalo scored 16 goals in 37 matches.

In the CSL, Ighalo scored 36 goals in 55 matches over the past two seasons. He also represented Nigeria in all three group-stage matches at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

“Ighalo will effectively enhance Shenhua’s attacking ability,” the club said in a statement. “With two years of CSL experience and working experience with manager Sanchez Flores, we believe Ighalo will quickly assimilate into the team.”

Ighalo arrived in Shanghai on Tuesday, and the club is holding a public welcome for him at the club’s training base in Pudong today, where he will meet fans.

Shenhua also announced the departure of Ighalo’s compatriot and fellow striker Obafemi Martins, as well as four domestic players, after their contracts with the club came to an end. Defender Li Jianbin and midfielder Qin Sheng (previously on loan with Dalian) have joined Dalian Yifang, which incidentally has also signed Napoli’s experienced Slovakia midfielder Marek Hamsik.

Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis, speaking ahead of the Serie A club’s Europa League game against Zurich yesterday, confirmed the news, saying: Hamsik “has gone.”

No financial details were released but local media reports say Dalian paid 20 million euros (US$22.6 million) for Hamsik, who signed a three-year contract worth 9 million euros a year.

De Laurentiis said, “If it’s a ‘goodbye’ or a ‘see you later’ depends only on him. I hope we have the chance at the end of the Chinese season to have him back for a proper goodbye to the fans.”

Hamsik, 31, joined Napoli in 2007 and scored a record 121 goals for the club, surpassing the 115 goals scored by Diego Maradona in December 2017. He also made 520 appearances, the most in club history, and has made a record 111 appearances for Slovakia.


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