He may have been wearing a sky blue shirt, but even Manchester United supporters wouldn’t have begrudged Owen Hargreaves a comeback goal that could finally signal an upturn in his injury fortunes.
The former Bayern Munich man has had to endure three years of operations, rehabilitation and aborted comebacks in his attempts to fully recover from tendinitis in both knees.
United finally ran out of patience with the England midfielder over the summer, declining to offer him a new deal after his contract expired at the end of last season.
That isn’t to say his time at Old Trafford ended in acrimony, he left with United’s best wishes, but the club – who desperately wanted him to return to action – simply couldn’t use sentiment as a reason to offer a new contract to a player who had barely played for three years.
Hargreaves’ now infamous youtube video, released to prove his fitness, led to a number of sides declaring an interest in signing him.
Manchester City – whose backing by Sheikh Mansour means they can buy anyone on the planet – were not expected to be in the running for a player on a free transfer.
However, as the transfer deadline approached it was Mancini’s men who came in and offered Hargreaves a one-year contract.
After the initial shock subsided it was a deal that made sense. If he could get himself fit then City have one hell of a player on their hands. But if it doesn’t work out the club has enough midfielders to cope in his absence and more than enough cash to cover his wages.
The early signs are that the signing could be inspired. Hargreaves made his long-awaited comeback against Birmingham in the Carling Cup and marked it with a stunning 25-yard goal to put his side in front. His celebration was a mixture of shock and relief. The standing ovation he received as he jogged off after 57 minutes – the longest spell of live football he has played since 2008 - was for as much for the three years of hard work to getto this point as it was for his 60 odd minutes worth of football.
Talk of an England recall is a bit premature after such a long spell out, but Hargreaves can at least give himself something to build on. Often the first step is the hardest so simply making it onto the pitch – and not limping off it – could be a vital psychological boost.
And with City among the favourites in the football betting for all four competitions this season he could also end up with a few medals in his pocket, something that must have seemed a distant dream when slumped in the United treatment room for all those months.