Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Manchester United career began with an injury-time winner at Wembley so Southampton can hardly say they weren’t warned.
The 35-year-old struck his 25th and 26th goals to hand the Red Devils their first piece of silverware under Jose Mourinho in an enthralling 3-2 win against the Saints.
It’s Ibrahimovic’s 32nd trophy of his career but the magnitude of his late winner won’t fully be revealed until the end of Mourinho’s reign at Old Trafford.
Like Mourinho, Ibrahimovic considered Manchester United a challenge. A sleeping giant that had forgotten how to win.
Few know Ibrahimovic as well as Mourinho. So when the Swede announced he came to Old Trafford ‘to win’ in July, the Special One knew he meant it.
Lucrative offers from China were on the table but it’s a measure of Ibrahimovic’s mentality that he agreed to the biggest test of his career in arriving to the Premier League at the age of 34.
Mourinho knew he couldn’t take risks at Old Trafford. It says everything that he deemed Ibrahimovic a near-guarantee of success when he arrived.
Ibrahimovic struck in the 90th minute to hand United the community Shield against Leicester City in August and he had his 25th goal of the season after less than 20 minutes against the Saints.
After weathering an early storm, Ibrahimovic struck a powerful free-kick from 25 yards to put the Red Devils ahead. The Swede’s strike was against the run of play but he didn’t appear to care after his 25th goal of the season.
Claude Puel’s men felt hard done by after Manolo Gabbiadini’s goal was wrongly ruled out for offside and they were undeservedly two-down moments later when Jesse Lingard slotted home to make it 2-0.
Mourinho’s men looked high and dry but Gabbiadini pulled one back before the break when he toe-poked past David De Gea.
The Italian felt aggrieved over his earlier disallowed goal but he had his second just two minutes into the restart when he capitalised on slack defending from a corner to draw the Saints level.
The Saints had a 15-day break before the showdown at Wembley and it was telling. The Saints came close to scoring the winner but were denied by the post.
With ten minutes remaining, there was a clear shift in the impetus and the stage felt set for late drama.
Mourinho spoke about restoring the club’s attacking DNA upon his appointment and when Ibrahimovic nodded in Herrera’s late cross there was a palpable sense that it had returned.
So often would United score sucker-punch late winners under Sir Alex Ferguson that the inevitability played on opposition going into the later stages.
While a winner at Wembley seemed far from inevitable this time around, the goal befitted an attitude that Mourinho has revived at the club since taking charge.
The Portuguese used the League Cup as a platform for greater success during his time at Stamford Bridge. Thanks to Ibrahimovic, the foundations are in place again at Old Trafford.