Odion Ighalo has admitted his dream move to Manchester United is tinged with heartbreak – as his older sister Mary did not live to see it happen.
Ighalo is poised to make his United debut when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side face Chelsea in Monday’s Premier League clash at Stamford Bridge.
But his sister – who was a huge United fan – will not be there to witness it after she collapsed and died in December, aged just 43.
Ighalo has had his beloved sister’s name inscribed on his football boots, and will also wear a white T-shirt etched with her name underneath his United jersey.
The Nigeria striker has also vowed to dedicate every goal he scores to Mary, who he said was “like a mother” to her younger siblings.
“I feel very emotional because it has not really struck me that my sister is gone forever and I am never going to see her again,” said Ighalo as he spoke for the first time about the tragedy in quotes reported by The Sun .
“Sometimes when I am alone and I just remember her, I have one sharp pain in my heart.
“My twin sister, Akhere, will call me, crying, saying she misses her and, sometimes when I am alone, I cry too.
“It is a very painful loss but I am trying to be strong as a man.”
Mary was at home getting her children ready for school when she collapsed.
Ighalo said: “It was a very painful moment.
“She just collapsed and died before the kids could even call for an ambulance. When the medics arrived they tried to revive her but she was already gone.”
Mary was survived by Akhere, elder sister Beatrice, brothers Austin and Moses and their mother Martina.
Ighalo, 30 said: “Although she was my older sister, Mary was like a mother to all of us.
“Even when I was young she would look after me. She tried to make everybody happy, make sure everyone was okay.”
The striker also spoke of how Mary and her siblings were big United fans. At her home she had hung a framed picture of herself in a Red Devils shirt with her name on the back of it.
Ighalo added: “My sister was a strong United fan. All of us grew up watching Manchester United , we all supported them.
“She always prayed I would sign for United. Even when she came to watch me in the Premier League playing for Watford she hoped I would join United.
“The painful part for me is that I now have signed for United, but she is not here to see it.
“However, I know she is up there watching me.
“That is why I am going to play with her name on my boots, so she is always with me at Old Trafford or in any game for Manchester United.
“Every goal I score from now until I finish my career will be dedicated to God and to her.
“I have written her name on my special white T-shirt and put her name on my boots. I want to show the world she is always with me.
“It means she can feel me playing at Old Trafford, feel that dream we all prayed for, even though she is not here to see it.
“But she will be on my feet, assisting me on the pitch.”
Ighalo is on loan at United from Chinese Super League club Shanghai Shenhua.