Edinson Cavani faced familiar questions when he signed for Manchester United on transfer deadline day in October after months in limbo following his departure from Paris St-Germain.
Was the 33-year-old Uruguayan, with a stellar career behind him for clubs and country, still hungry enough and good enough to make an impact on his belated arrival in the Premier League?
Was the signing tinged with desperation at the end of a window when United’s transfer policy under executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer came under close – and not always flattering – scrutiny?
Cavani’s pedigree cannot be questioned after scoring 341 goals in 556 club matches, including a record 200 goals in 301 games for PSG and 50 in 116 games for Uruguay.
And the fact that only Lionel Messi (435), Cristiano Ronaldo (421) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (253) have scored as many goals in Europe’s top five leagues since he made his Serie A debut for Palermo in March 2007 tells you he is, and has been, an operator of the highest calibre.
It stretches credibility to suggest Cavani’s signing was part of a carefully structured strategy given its timing, but on the evidence of an explosive second half in a 3-2 win against Southampton at St Mary’s on Sunday it may yet turn out to be a masterstroke and worth every penny of his lucrative one-year contract.
Manchester United were deep in trouble and 2-0 down to a confident Saints side when Cavani made his entrance at the start of the second half, although that entrance was delayed as he appeared to be wearing the wrong footwear.
Whatever he put on his feet certainly did the job – although most of the damage was inflicted with his head.
From the moment he came on, Cavani was a massive threat, striking fear into Southampton’s defence with every move, turning the game on its head and looking likely to convert the chances United had missed as they went behind.
His movement was outstanding wearing United’s famous “7” shirt, an imposing physical presence carrying a genuine air of menace. He did not look hungry – he looked ravenous.
This, coupled with a tireless work-rate, led to him having one shot deflected over the top from 10 yards before he set up Bruno Fernandes for the goal that was, in many respects, the real game-changer.
Cavani sent an athletic header wide of the far post before showing the class and instincts that have served him so well to finish off Southampton and give Manchester United a victory that may mean so much for Solskjaer and his team in the weeks ahead.
He showed a glorious natural touch to divert United’s two match-winning headers past Southampton’s excellent keeper Alex McCarthy, the first from Fernandes’ deflected shot and the decisive injury-time contribution from Marcus Rashford’s driven cross.
Cavani was this eventful game’s towering influence and the manner in which he reacted, and the way in which his team-mates reacted to him, when he scored illustrated his stunning impact.
Solskjaer explained United want to ease him into action but his early contribution put his introduction on fast forward, telling BBC Radio 5 Live: “He has forced us to play him because he played really well against Istanbul [in the Champions League]. We wanted to keep him on the bench and drip-feed him in but he’s getting better and better.
“We have a lot of young players but we also have experience in the team. He’s had a fantastic impact and shows every day how professional he is in his preparation and recovery, showing why he has had the career he has.”
He added: “He is a number nine who wants to be between the posts. He is always on the move. He wants to get in front of you and I’m very pleased with him.
“He is so meticulous, on the training pitch, in the dressing room and at meal times. He knows what he wants to eat, how much he wants to recover – everything.”
United captain Harry Maguire was equally appreciative after Cavani dug them out of this hole, saying: “His movement is excellent in the box. He’s the best I’ve played against during training. He is on the move constantly. We know what he has got and what he can bring to this club. He is a top, top player.”
Cavani deserved every tribute that came his way after the sort of impact world-class players make when it is required, breaking Southampton’s hearts and delivering what he threatened to do from the moment he walked on at misty St Mary’s.
It is early days and more tests lie ahead – but this was compelling evidence that Cavani’s old habits will die hard and Manchester United may still get more out of someone who has been one of Europe’s most potent and enduring attacking forces for well over a decade.