United v Southampton: Showdown of strikers
Gabbiadini out to do an Italian job on idol Ibrahimovic's bid for a 30th career trophy
Manolo Gabbiadini already knows why it is best never to meet your heroes.
Growing up worshipping Zlatan Ibrahimovic failed to prepare him for the moment when their paths eventually yet briefly crossed on a sunny Sunday afternoon, five years ago.
Gabbiadini had only an 11-minute cameo to try and leave a firm impression on his idol.
But the erstwhile Atalanta striker may have been better served clutching his autograph book.
His contribution in that brief window of opportunity was minimal, forced to watch from a distance as Ibrahimovic dominated proceedings at the opposite end of the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia as AC Milan consolidated their place as Serie A leaders with a 2-0 win over Atlatanta.
Reality shattered any illusions that Gabbiadini held of emulating Manchester United's current talisman.
Until now, fate has conspired to keep them apart ever since that meeting in January 2012 on career paths that could not be more different.
Ibrahimovic will head into tomorrow's League Cup final unchanged from the player that has swaggered and self-proclaimed his way through Europe's elite clubs.
The former Sweden international boasts that he is the "Indiana Jones" of football, but a genie may be a more fitting comparison.
Wishes for trophies have often become his command.
A medal haul where titles and domestic cups have often gone hand in hand in the Eredivisie, Serie A, La Liga and Ligue 1 has vindicated claims that he is a serial winner wherever he goes.
Man United are unlikely to be an exception to that rule, even at the age of 35.
Already, he has comfortably usurped Wayne Rooney as his side's focal point in a matter of months and shows increasingly little signs of slowing down after recently breaking through the 20-goal mark in all competitions for a 10th season in succession.
Yet it is more than tangible contributions that mark out Ibrahimovic as he bids to scoop a 30th major career honour.
The depth of his on-field understanding with Paul Pogba has been central to the world's most expensive player belatedly becoming a genuine hit at Old Trafford.
As his childhood icon continues to endear himself to both United and the EPL, however, Gabbiadini finds himself on a comeback trail at Southampton after slipping under the radar.
He followed in Ibrahimovic's footsteps by joining Juventus, just months after their initial meeting, but never made an apperance as he was immediately farmed out on loan to Bologna.
Spells with Sampdoria and Napoli later followed, with semi-credible results.
Gabbiadini comfortably broke into double figures with both, scoring 41 times in 127 combined appearances, but doubts remained an inescapable theme for the 25-year-old.
At Napoli, he failed to capitalise on Gonzalo Higuain's departure and Arkadiusz Milik's prolonged injury.
In Milik's absence, Maurizio Sarri crowned Dries Mertens, a winger, as his interim successor; firmly shutting the door on any hopes Gabbiadini had of staking a claim with the Serie A outfit.
MANOLO NOT IN SYNC
Further condemnation followed when Aurelio De Laurentiis, the club's president, brutally likened the Italy international to "an out-of-key note in a harmony".
Even when confronted by such opposition, he remained a player firmly in demand, with Southampton beating a host of European clubs, including Marseille, AC Milan and Borussia Moenchengladbach to his £14.6 million (S$25.7m) capture at the end of last month.
The opportunities which eluded him at Napoli and elsewhere has presented itself on the English coast, with Charlie Austin's spell on the sidelines allowing him to finally seize the spotlight.
He is already statistically on a par with Ibrahimovic in shot accuracy, despite the latter being 12 goals ahead of his three from just two EPL outings.
Going one better and avenging his former idol and ending Southampton's 41-year wait for a major trophy may be easier said than done.