Fourteen years to the week since he brought Eric Cantona to Manchester United and ignited a decade of dominance at Old Trafford, Sir Alex Ferguson conjured up another audacious transfer yesterday with the 10-week loan signing of the former Golden Boot winner Henrik Larsson.
In a move that United supporters hope will have some of the impact as Cantona's in 1992 (though the Frenchman was only 26 when he arrived from Leeds and not Larsson's 35), Ferguson has persuaded the Swedish striker to give up a pre-season with his home-town club Helsingborg in exchange for a brief tilt at the Premiership title. Larsson will commence training with his temporary club on 7 December, return home for Christmas with his family - whom he cited as a reason for ending a successful two-year spell with Barcelona this summer - and become eligible to bring talents that have illuminated Feyenoord, Celtic and the European champions into the English top flight following United's League game at Newcastle on New Year's Day.
"We are getting a player with great pedigree, great character and great goalscoring ability. It's a terrific piece of business for us," insisted Ferguson. "We are bringing in someone who can change games. You saw that in the Champions' League final against Arsenal. He won that game for Barcelona. His introduction completely changed things around for them."
Though the ingenuity of the Larsson deal cannot be questioned, the fact that he will be leaving in March casts doubt on the strength of the United forward line for the final two months of the season. In an indirect way, the deal also poses questions about the amount of money the club will have available in the January window. "We won't be going for any other strikers," Ferguson said. "We have exhausted all avenues and this, without doubt, is the best option."
With a move for another striker ruled out, the United manager is keeping his powder dry for another attempt to prise Owen Hargreaves out of Bayern Munich providing he completes his recovery from a broken leg.
United and Helsingborg have agreed that Larsson cannot extend his stay beyond 12 March - "if it had been a question of a longer period we would have said no to the deal," said the Helsingborg chairman, Sten-Inge Fredrin - although Ferguson will explore the possibility if the veteran has the same inspirational impact as the previous thirty-something forward he brought to Old Trafford, Teddy Sheringham.
"He's 35 - but look at what Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer are doing at the moment," he added. "Henrik is not coming here just to be a squad player. He will be determined to get into the team and he gives me fantastic options.
"Experience does count and I've said all along that when the season gets to the business end, it comes down to a lot of things - experience and nerve and things like that - and players like Giggs, Scholes, Neville, Solskjaer will be invaluable. Adding Larsson does not do our chances any harm whatsoever. It improves them."
At the end of a week in which United and Chelsea extended their lead over Arsenal and Liverpool to 16 and 13 points respectively, Ferguson suggested that Larsson, who is eligible for the Champions' League providing Benfica are accounted for next week, will be involved in a title race that features only two horses. "It certainly looks that way now," he said. "It needs a big turnaround. It needs both of us to drop points for Liverpool and Arsenal to get back in and I don't think that will happen."
Ferguson is to recall Giuseppe Rossi from an unsuccessful loan spell at Newcastle and has not ruled out a permanent move next summer for the teenage prodigy Freddy Adu, the American international who has just completed a two-week trial with United's academy team. Under UK employment laws, Adu cannot sign a contract with a Premiership club until his 18th birthday, 2 June next year, and the Scot admitted: "We will keep a check on him and assess what we can do when he turns 18."Reuse content