After losing the league title to Manchester City in 2012, Sir Alex Ferguson promised Manchester United would never lose out on goal difference again.
The Scot’s side were champions for all of 20 seconds at the Stadium of Light before Sergio Aguero stepped up in the dying seconds to gift Roberto Mancini’s side the title for the first time in 45 years.
Sir Alex responded by pipping United’s city rivals to the signing of Arsenal captain Robin van Persie. At 29 and with a highly questionable injury record, many doubted the Red Devils’ decision to sign the Dutchman on a four-year contract.
However, after 30 goals in 48 appearances during his debut campaign, the Dutchman was able to call himself a Premier League champion for the first time and he gave Ferguson the perfect send-off in his final year.
A similar dilemma faces the club this summer with enigmatic Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic available on a free, albeit far from inexpensive, transfer.
At 34, the Paris Saint-German striker is significantly further down the line in his career compared to Van Persie but United’s stock is not as high as it was in 2012.
Ibrahimovic has a maximum of two seasons left at the top and, with the likes of Marcus Rashford shining when given a chance this season, United fans are worried that the Swede’s arrival will hinder the youngster’s progress.
But the same accusation was aimed at Van Persie, who arrived after Danny Welbeck’s breakthrough season at Old Trafford.
It’s been three seasons since the Red Devils won the league and a fourth season without a title challenge is unthinkable.
While Rashford and James Wilson are undoubtedly prospects, they are nowhere near the level of Ibrahimovic and United cannot afford to let their drought continue.
At 34, there are bound to be question marks over Ibrahimovic’s longevity at the top but his stats this season actually suggest he’s getting better.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goals in the last five seasons
2013-2014: Appearances 46 Goals 41
2014-2015: Appearances 37 Goals 30
2015-2016: Appearances 51 Goals 50
Though wages of around £250,000-a-week would make Ibrahimovic one of United’s highest paid players, they haven’t been afraid of shelling out similar amounts in the past to the likes of Radamel Falcao.
More than that, Ibrahimovic’s arrival would be a statement of intent from the Red Devils. When United last dropped out of the last four, they signed Angel Di Maria as a signal that they can still sign the world’s best players.
Wayne Rooney’s days as a forward are numbered and he will have to compete for a midfield role under Mourinho. That leaves just Anthony Martial and Rashford in attack.
United scored a measly 49 league goals last season. Less than Ibrahimovic’s total for the campaign.
There are similarities, too, with Eric Cantona. The fiery Frenchman arrived at Old Trafford in a controversial deal from Leeds United and many dismissed his ability to make it at the Theatre of Dreams because of his temperament. Sir Alex Ferguson, though, was able to control the Frenchman – much in the same way that Mourinho can with Ibrahimovic.
Cantona became the figurehead for a young United side in the 1995/1996 season and with the likes of Michael Carrick likely to be leaving this summer, the Red Devils are lacking experienced leaders.
With Mourinho and Ibrahimovic together at Old Trafford, there are bound to be fireworks. But after a season of dire football under Louis van Gaal, United fans are due some excitement.
Van Persie left the club with a year remaining on his contract for the sun of Turkey. While his long-term value was minimal – United received just £4m from Fenerbache – his part in United’s historic 20th title victory will never be forgotten.
Ibrahimovic’s time in the Premier League will be similarly short-lived but it could be equally as rewarding.